What is a MYGA Annuity

What is a MYGA Annuity?

A MYGA is a Multi-Year Guarantee Annuity. It is also called a Fixed-Rate Annuity and behaves somewhat like a CD. There is a fixed rate of return for a set term, typically 3-10 years. At the end of the term, you can walk away with your money or reinvest it into another annuity or something else. Today’s MYGA rates are in the mid-5% range, the best they have been in a decade.

Annuities are one of the most confusing insurance products for consumers because there are so many varieties. In addition to MYGAs, there are Variable Annuities, Fixed Index Annuities, and Single Premium Immediate Annuities (SPIAs). Some of these are expensive, illiquid, and have quite a poor reputation. That’s because the Variable and Index annuities can pay a high commission, and have been sold by unscrupulous insurance agents to clients who didn’t understand what they were buying. States have been cracking down on bad agents, but even now, some of these products are highly complex and difficult to understand how they actually work. They are a tool for a very specific job and investors have to make sure that it is right for them. Unfortunately, with some agents, their only tool is a hammer, so every problem looks like a nail.

Why I like MYGAs

I do like MYGAs and think they are a good fit for some of my clients. Unlike the other annuities, MYGAs are simple and easy to understand. I have some of my own money in a MYGA and will probably add more over time. We consider a MYGA to be part of our fixed income allocation. For example, we may have a target portfolio of 60/40 – 60% stocks and 40% fixed income – and a MYGA can be part of the 40%.

Here are some of the benefits of a MYGA:

  • Fixed rate of return, set for the duration of the term. Non-callable (more about this below).
  • Your principal is guaranteed. MYGAs are very safe.
  • Tax-deferral. You pay no income taxes on your MYGA until it is withdrawn. This can be beneficial if you are in a high tax bracket now, and want to delay withdrawals until you are in a lower tax bracket in retirement.
  • You can continue the tax deferral at the end of the term with a 1035 exchange to another annuity or insurance product. This is a tax-free rollover.
  • Creditor protection. As an insurance product, a MYGA offers asset protection.

Lock in Today’s Rates

Interest Rates have risen a lot over the last two years as the Federal Reserve has increased rates to fight inflation. As a result, the rates on MYGAs are the best they have been in over a decade, over 5% today. The expectation on Wall Street is that the Fed will begin cutting interest rates sometime this year as inflation is better under control.

Now appears to be a good time to lock-in today’s high interest rates with a MYGA. This is one of their big advantages over most bonds. Today’s bonds often are callable. This means that the issuer can redeem the bonds ahead of schedule. So, when we buy an 5-year Agency or Corporate bond with a yield of 5.5%, there’s no guarantee that we will actually get to keep the bond for the full five years. In fact, if interest rates drop (as expected), there will be a wave of calls, as issuers will be able to refinance their debt to lower interest rates.

We are already seeing quite a few Agency bonds getting called in the past month.

We don’t have this problem with a MYGA, they are not callable. The rate is guaranteed for the full duration. Given the choice of a 5.5% callable bond or a 5.5% MYGA, I would prefer the annuity given the possibility of lower rates ahead. The MYGA will lock-in today’s rates whereas the callable bond might be just temporary. If rates fall to 4%, the 5.5% bond gets called and then our only option is to buy a 4% bond.

Some bonds are not callable, most notably US Treasuries. However, the rates on MYGAs are about 1% higher than Treasuries today. If you are planning to hold to maturity, I would prefer a MYGA over a lower-yielding, non-callable bond.

The Fine Print

What are the downsides to a MYGA? The main one is that they are not liquid and there are steep surrender charges if you want your money back before the term is complete. Some will allow you to withdraw your annual interest or 10% a year. Other MYGAs do not allow any withdrawals without a penalty. Generally, the higher the yield, the more restrictions.

One way we can address the lack of liquidity is to “ladder” annuities. Instead of putting all the money into one duration, we spread the money out over different years. For example, instead of having $50,000 in one annuity that matures in five years, we have $10,000 in five annuities that mature in 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years. This way we will have access to some money each and every year.

Like a 401(k) or IRA, withdrawals from an annuity prior to age 59 1/2 will carry a 10% penalty for pre-mature distributions from the IRS. The penalty only applies to the earnings portion. Think of a MYGA as another type of retirement account.

Lastly, I do get paid a commission on the sale of the annuity from the insurance company. This does not come out of your principal – if you invest $10,000, all $10,000 is invested and growing. And I do not charge an investment management fee on a MYGA, unlike a bond. A 5% MYGA will net you 5%, whereas a 5% bond will net you 4% after fees. So in this case, I think the commission structure is actually preferable for investors.

Is a MYGA right for you?

Most of my MYGA buyers are in their 50s and older and have a lot of fixed income holdings already. They don’t need this money until after 59 1/2 and are okay with tying it up, in exchange for the guarantees and tax-deferral benefits. They have other sources of liquidity and a solid emergency fund. When we compare the pros and cons of a MYGA to a high-quality bond, for some the MYGA is a good choice. If you are not a current client, but are interested in just a MYGA, we can help you with no additional obligation. I am an independent agent and can compare the rates and features of MYGAs from different insurers.

Many investors have been wishing for a safe investment where they can just make 5% and not lose any money. That used to be readily available 20 years ago, but disappeared after 2009 when central banks took interest rates down to zero. Today 5% is back and we can lock it in for 3-10 years with a MYGA. You can’t get that in a 10-year Treasury. Other bonds and CDs with comparable rates are probably callable. If you want a safe, non-callable, guaranteed 5%+, a MYGA may be for you.

US and French Social Security

US and French Social Security

We are in Paris and several clients have reached out to make sure we are doing okay, given the demonstrations and riots regarding France’s retirement system. Yes, we are fine and actually never saw any of these events other than on the news. Day to day life in Paris is normal, and thankfully the garbage strike is over. It has been perfectly tranquil in our neighborhood and we are enjoying life in the city.

Why are the French upset? Currently, if you are 62 and have worked for 42 years, a French citizen can receive their full retirement benefit of 50% of the average salary of their highest paid 20 years of work. If you don’t have 42 years of contributions, you will receive less than 50%, or you can work for longer to increase your benefit up to 50%. So, if you had been making $60,000 (Euros actually), you could potentially retire at 62 with a $30,000 pension. Under the new rules, the full retirement benefit will not become available until age 64 with 43 years of work. There are some interesting parallels between US and French Social Security.

The French Connection

In a recent interview, France’s President Macron defended the changes, which have been enormously unpopular. Macron explained that the program has always been an entitlement program, where current benefits are paid by current taxes. It is not a personal savings or investment account. When Macron took office, there were 10 million retirees receiving benefits, out of France’s 67 million population. Today, there are 17 million retirees and that number will grow to 20 million by 2030. 20 million pensioners out of a total of 67 million people. There are 1.7 workers in France for each retiree.

1.7 workers cannot provide an average monthly benefit of 1300 Euros for each retiree. There are only two options, increase taxes or decrease benefits. France already has high taxes, 20% just for social programs (this also includes health insurance, unemployment, maternity benefits, and other programs). 14% of France’s GDP is just retirement pensions. France compared their program and expenditures to similar countries and recognized that their retirement age was too low, given how much longer people are living today.

Macron tried to work with representatives in their Parliament on a solution. But when no agreement could be reached, he issued an executive order to make the changes without a vote. He noted that he had to do what was in the country’s best interest in the long term and preserve the program for their children and grandchildren, even if it was not the most popular thing to do. I was impressed by his directness, intelligent explanation of a complex problem, and courage to do the right thing even when it is not easy or popular.

The US Conundrum

I’ve been writing about the problems facing US Social Security since 2008. Back then, the 2036 projected collapse of the Social Security Trust Fund seemed like a lifetime away. Today, Social Security projects that the Trust Fund will be depleted by 2033. At that time, taxes will only cover about 70% of promised benefits. And every year, the Social Security Trustees report tells us how much we need to increase taxes or decrease benefits to keep the program solvent for 75 years.

Unfortunately, over the last 15 years no changes have occurred. It has been political suicide for any politician to suggest reforming Social Security. The easiest attack ad has always been to say that your opponent wants to “take away your Social Security check”. So we keep on marching towards that cliff with no change in direction. Shame on our politicians for not being willing to save the foundation of our retirement.

When Social Security started, there were 16 workers for every retiree and the average life expectancy was 65. Today, there are 2.8 workers for every retiree and that ratio continues to shrink. The typical 65 year old, in 2023, will live for at least 20 years. Like in France, it doesn’t matter what “you paid into Social Security”. That’s not how the program ever worked. Current taxes pay current beneficiaries. Your past contributions were spent on your parent’s or grandparent’s check.

No Easy Solution

Compared to France, the US demographics may look better. However, France actually is running a smaller deficit on their retirement program – only a 10 Billion Euro average annual shortfall for the next decade. They actually ran a surplus in 2022 and are proactively making these changes looking forward to the decade ahead. They’re making changes before there is a deficit! (Social Security spent only $56 Billion of the Trust Fund last year, but this will accelerate and deplete the whole $2.8 Trillion over the next 10 years.)

For the US, if we we wait, it will magnify the size of the changes needed. It would be better to start today to save Social Security. We can either increase taxes or reduce benefits. Those are the only two options. No one wants to do either, so we have to reach a compromise.

Thankfully, there are actuaries at Social Security who study all proposals. Their annual report estimates how much of the shortfall could be reduced for each change. Here are some of their calculations, looking at the improvement of the long-range actuarial balance. (We should be looking for some combination which equals at least 100%.)

Impact of Possible Changes to US Social Security

  • Reduce COLAs by 1% annually: 56%
  • Change COLA to chained CPI-W: 18%
  • Calculate new benefits using inflation rather than SSA Average Wage Index: 80%
  • Reduce benefits for new retirees by 5% starting 2023: 18%
  • Wage test. Reduce SS benefits from 0-50% if income is $60k-180k single/$120k-360k married: 15%
  • Increase Full Retirement Age from 67 to 69 by 2034, and then increase FRA by 1 month every 2 years going forward: 38%
  • Increase the Payroll Tax from 12.4% to 16% in 2023: 103%
  • Eliminate SS cap and tax all wages: 58%
  • Eliminate SS cap, tax all wages, but do not increase benefits above the current law maximum: 75%
  • New 6.2% tax on investment income, for single $200k / married $250k: 29%

I don’t have an answer for what Washington will do. But we can look at what will actually work. And what is perhaps even more interesting is what doesn’t work. It is shocking, for example, that wage testing SS only improves the shortfall by 18%. Or that Reducing COLAs by 1% every year only will cover half the shortfall. Unfortunately, we may need to increase taxes. Moving to 16% payroll tax would fully cover the shortfall. That would be a relatively small increase from 6.2% to 8%, each, for an employee and the employer. But that is a regressive tax, which would impact low earners more than high earners. For reforms to work, it might require a combination of both increased taxes and reductions in the way benefits increase.

Kicking The Can Down The Road

Will the US take action to save Social Security, or will the reaction in France scare US Politicians? It’s hard to imagine our divided Congress reaching a compromise on an issue as difficult and controversial as changing Social Security. But any politician who is still talking about the other side as “trying to take away your Social Security” is now part of the problem and not part of the solution. Kicking the can down the road is not going to help America.

What is certain is the need to save Social Security. It is the largest source of retirement income for most Americans. And the lower your income, the more Social Security is needed to cover retirement expenses. We can’t keep ignoring the future of Social Security, it’s not going to get better on its own. The status quo is not an option.

I hope the US won’t see the same riots as Paris. But I also hope US politicians will do their job and have the courage to make the tough choices that are in the best interest of the public. US and French Social Security are both in the same precarious state. Let’s hope Winston Churchill was right: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” That day is coming soon.

SECURE Act 2.0 Retirement Changes

Secure Act 2.0 Retirement Changes

The SECURE Act 2.0 passed this week after being discussed in Washington for nearly two years. The Act could not make it through Congress on its own, but it was stuffed into the Omnibus Spending Bill that was required to avoid an imminent government shutdown. I’ll save that rant for another day and focus on some of the dozens and dozens of changes to retirement planning in the Secure Act 2.0 which will affect you.

First, some background: The original SECURE Act was passed in December 2019. This legislation was the largest change to retirement planning in recent decades. It included increasing the age of RMDs from 70 to 72 and eliminating the Stretch IRA for beneficiaries.

The SECURE Act 2.0 goes even further and has a large number of changes to help improve retirement readiness for Americans. We are not going to cover all of these changes, but focus on a few key areas that are likely to apply to my clients.

Required Minimum Distributions

The SECURE Act 2.0 will gradually increase the age of RMDs from 72 to 75. Next year, the age to start RMDs will be 73, and then this will increase to age 75 in 2033. So, if you were born before 1950, your RMD age will remain 72 and you have already started RMDs. If you were born between 1951-1959, your RMD age is 73. And if you were born in 1960 or later, RMDs will begin in the year you turn 75.

I’m happy to see RMDs pushed out further to allow people to grow their IRAs for longer. For investors, this will extend the window of years when it makes most sense to do Roth Conversions. People are living longer and we should be pushing out the age of RMDs and starting retirement.

Roth Changes

Washington loves Roth IRAs. Anyone who thinks Washington doesn’t like Roths should consider the incredible expansion to Roths in SECURE Act 2.0. Roths are here to stay.

First, SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRA plans will be amended to include Roth Accounts. This brings them up to par with 401(k) plans which have offered a Roth option for several years now. What does this mean? Roth contributions are after-tax and grow tax-free for retirement. You will be able to now open a Roth SEP or a Roth SIMPLE. Do you have a W-2 job and also self-employment income? You can do a 401(k) at work and also a Roth SEP for your self-employment.

2.0 also eliminates the RMD requirement from Roth 401(k)s. This was an odd requirement, and could easily be avoided by rolling a Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA. But it still caught some people by surprise, so I am glad they eliminated this.

Starting in 2023, Employers may now make matching contributions into Roth 401(k) sub-accounts for employees. These additional contributions will be added to the employee’s taxable income. So, this may not make sense for everyone.

Forced Roth for Catch-Up Contributions

In 2024, high wage earners will be forced into using a Roth sub-account for catch-up contributions. If you are over age 50, you can make catch-up contributions. If you made over $145,000 in the previous year, your catch-up contributions must go into a Roth 401(k) starting in 2024. You will no longer be able to make Traditional (“deductible”) contributions with catch-up amounts. Oh, and if your company does not currently offer a Roth option, everyone over 50 will be prohibited from making any catch-up contributions.

This one will be a mess and is one of the only negative impacts we will see from SECURE Act 2.0. It will take many months for 401(k) providers and employers to update their systems and figure out how to implement these new changes.

Lots of Roth changes, but what isn’t here? The SECURE Act 2.0 didn’t eliminate the Backdoor Roth IRA. Many in Congress have been wanting to kill the Backdoor Roth, but it lives on. There are no new restrictions on Roth Conversions of any sort. Why so much love for Roths? Washington wants your tax money now, not in 30 years.

529 Plan to Roth

What if you fund a 529 College Savings plan for your child and they don’t use all the money? Currently, you can change the 529 plan to another beneficiary. But if you don’t have another beneficiary, withdrawing the money could result in taxable gains and a 10% penalty. The SECURE Act 2.0 is creating a third option: you can rollover $35,000 from a 529 plan to a Roth IRA for the beneficiary.

Here are the requirements. You must have had the 529 plan open for at least 15 years. You cannot rollover any contributions made in the preceding five years. Each year, the amount rolled from the 529 to the Roth is included towards the annual Roth contribution limit. For example, this year the limit is $6,500. The maximum you could roll from a 529 would be $6,500. But if the beneficiary already contributed $3,000 to an IRA (Roth or Traditional), you could only roll $3,500 from the 529 to the Roth. Thankfully, there are no income limitations to make this rollover. The lifetime limit on rolling over a 529 to a Roth will be $35,000, so this may take 5-6 years assuming the beneficiary makes no other IRA contributions.

You can change the beneficiary of a 529 plan to yourself. So, could you take an old 529, change the beneficiary to yourself and then roll it into your own Roth IRA? It is unclear in the legislation if a change in beneficiary will start a new 15-year waiting period. We will have to wait for additional rules to find out.

Other SECURE Act 2.0 Retirement Changes

So many changes! (Here is the most detailed summary I have seen so far.) These won’t impact everyone but I am studying all of these to see who might benefit:

  • IRA catch-up amounts will be indexed to inflation and increase in $100 increments.
  • 401(k) Catch-up contributions will be increased for ages 60-63. The amount will be $10,000 or 150% of the annual amount, whichever is higher.
  • QCD (Qualified Charitable Distributions) limit of $100,000 will be indexed to inflation.
  • New exceptions to the 10% premature distribution penalty.
  • Emergency Savings Accounts, allowing people to access their 401(k)s without penalty. (Bad idea, but so many people in distress do this and then have to pay penalties and taxes, hurting them even further.)
  • QLAC limit increased to $200,000.
  • Allowing matching 401(k) contributions for payments towards student loans.
  • Tax credits for small employers who start a retirement plan.
  • New Starter 401(k) plans.
  • Lower penalties for missed RMDs.

I appreciate that Washington wants to make it easier for Americans to save for retirement. The SECURE Act 2.0 has a vast amount of retirement changes to incentivize the behavior the government wants to see. For those who are able to save for retirement, they are making it easier to save and accumulate assets. Your retirement is your responsibility! And retirement planning is my job. I’m here to help with your questions, preparation, and implementing your retirement goals.

Stocks Versus Bonds Today

Stocks Versus Bonds Today

Where is the best opportunity – in stocks or bonds? I’ve been enthusiastic about the rising interest rates in 2022 and this has impacted the relative attractiveness of stocks versus bonds today. What do we expect from stocks going forward?

Vanguard’s Investment Strategy Group publishes their projected return for stocks for the next 10 years. And while no one has a crystal ball to know exactly how stocks will perform, this is still valuable information. They look at expected economic growth, dividend yield, and whether stock values (P/E ratios for example) might expand or contract.

Their median 10-year expected return for US stocks is 5.7%, with a plus or minus 1% range, for a range of 4.7% to 6.7%. This is actually up from the beginning of the year. As stocks have fallen by 20%, we are now starting from a less expensive valuation. But a projected return of 5.7% for the next decade would be well below historical averages, and most investors are hoping for better.

Is Vanguard being too pessimistic? No, many other analysts have similar projections which are well below historical returns. For example, Northern Trust forecasts a 6% return on US stocks over the next five years. And of course, these are just projections. Returns could be better. Or worse!

Bonds Are An Alternative

Last week, I bought some investment grade corporate bonds with a yield to maturity of 6% over three to five years. Bonds have much less risk than stocks and have only a fraction of the volatility of stocks. As long as the company stays in business, you should be getting your 6% return and then your principal back at maturity.

If we can buy a good bond with a return of 5.5% to 6.0%, that completely matches the projected stock returns that Vanguard expects. Why bother with stocks, then? Why take the risk that we fall short of 6% in stocks, if we can get a 6% return in bonds? Today, bonds are really attractive, even potentially an alternative to stocks.

For many of our clients, bonds look better than stocks now. And so we may be trimming stocks by year end and buying bonds, under two conditions: 1. The stocks market remains up. We are not going to sell stocks if they fall from here. 2. We can buy investment grade bonds, 3-7 years, with yields of at least 5.5% and preferably 6%. And we have to find different bonds, because we aim to keep any one company to no more than 1-2% of the portfolio.

We won’t be giving up on stocks – not at all. But we may look to shift 10-20% of that US stock exposure to bonds.

Three Paths for the Market

I think there are three scenarios, all of which are okay.

  1. Stocks do way better than 6%. The risk here is that stocks could perform much better than the 5.7% estimate from Vanguard. Maybe they return 8% over the next five years. Well, this is our worst scenario: we make “only” 6% and are kicking ourselves because we could have made a little bit more if we had stayed in stocks.
  2. Stocks return 6% or less. In this case, it is possible we will get the same return from bonds as the expected return from stocks. And if stocks do worse than expected, our bonds might even outperform the stocks. That’s also a win for bonds.
  3. Stocks decline. What if the economy goes into recession, and stocks drop? If stocks are down 10% and we are up 6% a year on bonds, we will be really happy. In a recession, it’s likely that yields will drop and the price of bonds will increase. The 6% bond we bought might have gone up in value from 100 to 104. Then, our total return on the bond might be 10%, and we could be 20% ahead relative to stocks’ 10% drop. And in this scenario, we don’t have to hold the bonds to maturity. We could sell the bonds and buy stocks while they are down.

Smoother is Better

I’m happy with any of those three scenarios. Many investors are feeling some PTSD from the market performance since 2020. Many will be happy to “settle” for 5.5% to 6% from bonds, versus the 5.7% expected return from stocks. And of course, stocks won’t be steady. They may be up 20% one year and down 20% the next. It is often a roller coaster, and so increasing bonds may offer a smoother ride while not changing our expected return by much at all.

Should everyone do this? No, I think if you are a young investor who is contributing every month to a 401(k) or IRA, don’t give up on stocks. Even if the return ends up being the same 6%, you will actually benefit from the volatility of stocks through Dollar Cost Averaging. When stocks are down, you are buying more shares. So, if you are in accumulation, many years from retirement (say 10+), I wouldn’t make any change.

But for investors with a large portfolio, or those in or near retirement, I think they will prefer the steady, more predictable return of bonds. When the yield on bonds is the same as the 5-10 year expected return on stocks, bonds make a lot of sense. The risk/reward comparison of stocks versus bonds today is clear: bonds offer the same expected return for less risk. We will be adding to bonds and adjusting our portfolio models going into 2023.

Inflation Investment Ideas

Inflation Investment Ideas

Inflation continues to shock the Global economy and has become a major concern when we discuss investment ideas. This week’s data showed the Consumer Price Index up 9.1% over last year, and the Producer Price Index is up over 11%. These are numbers not seen since 1981.

Today, I’m going to share some thoughts on inflation and get into how we want to respond to this situation. But first, here is an inside look at the government response to inflation.

Federal Reserve Hitting the Brakes

Last week, I attended a breakfast meeting for the Arkansas CFA Society at the Federal Reserve office in Little Rock. Our guest speaker was James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and voting member of the Open Market Committee which sets interest rates.

Bullard said that we were at a profound regime switching moment today, and that this is not just a blip in inflation but a “stunning amount of inflation”. He stated that the Fed would move aggressively to reduce inflation and that they were committed to their inflation target of 2%. He thinks the Fed will continue to raise rates until policy rates are greater than the inflation rate and may need to hold those high rates for years to come to bring inflation down.

Bullard felt that the current inflation levels are not simply a temporary supply shock from the Ukraine War. Output is actually up. In March 2020, the Fed responded very quickly to support an economy crashing from COVID-19 shutdowns. 60 days later, markets recovered and housing boomed. He wishes that they had reduced their asset purchases sooner. Instead, the Fed is only now ceasing to buy bonds and is allowing their holdings to run-off as they mature. The global stimulus response was correct, but has overheated.

He was less concerned about the possibility of a recession. Bullard said that recessions are difficult to predict and that the Fed is going to focus on getting inflation under control first. Inflation remains a global problem, but the US Federal Reserve will lead the way on fighting inflation, as the European Central Bank has other issues making them slower to respond.

Inflation, Rising Rates, Recession

It’s important to understand that even if inflation remains elevated for a couple of years, the impact of inflation may only be part of the story. Our investment ideas cannot simply assume high inflation as the only factor. We have to also consider the likelihood of rising interest rates and a recession. We’d love it if the Federal Reserve can orchestrate a soft landing as they apply brakes to this runaway economy. But they have not been very good at soft landings in the past.

The Fed policies are starting to work. Since the June inflation numbers, we’ve already seen the price of oil down by 20%. Mortgage applications are down and we should start to see housing inventories normalize and home prices stop their double digit increases. Interest rates have doubled compared to last year – 5.5% versus 2.75% for a 30-year mortgage – and this will impact how much home buyers can afford to pay. The Bloomberg Commodity Index was at 130 on June 16th and is now at 113, a drop of 13% in one month.

It is hard to imagine additional inflation shocks or surprises at this point. Despite the headlines, markets already know we have inflation. Inflation remains high, but may have peaked and should be starting to come down. The question is what is next? How will the markets respond to the Fed actions? Here are five thoughts about where to go from here.

Five Inflation Investment Ideas

  1. Rising Rates. Bond investors beware. The Fed is going to continue to raise interest rates for an extended period. Keep your duration short on bonds. Consider floating rate bonds, if you don’t have any. Stay high quality – rising rates may cause defaults in weaker credits.
  2. I-Bonds. These are inflation linked US savings bonds. They’ve been in the news this year, but I’ve been writing about them since 2016. Limited to $10,000 in purchases a year. These could do great for a couple of years.
  3. Recession and Stocks. We might already be in a recession today, but won’t know it until later economic data shows a negative GDP for two quarters. Please resist the temptation to try to time the stock market. Recessions are a lagging indicator; stocks are a leading indicator and stocks will bounce back sooner. If you try to get out of stocks, it will be very difficult to get back in successfully. Instead, focus on diversification, with Value and Quality stocks. Avoid the high-flying growth names, we are already seeing those stocks get pummelled.
  4. Roth Conversions. We are in a Bear Market, with the S&P 500 Index down 20%. This could be a good time to look at Roth Conversions, if you believe as I do that stocks will come back at some point in the future. An index fund that used to be $50,000 is now trading for $40,000. Do the Roth Conversion, pay taxes on the $40,000 and then it will grow tax-free from here. This works best if you anticipate being in a similar tax bracket in retirement as today.
  5. Cash is Trash. Inflation is reducing your purchasing power. Thankfully, rising interest rates means we can now earn some money on Bonds and CDs. We can build laddered bond portfolios from 1-5 years with yields of 3-5%. And we have CDs at 3% as short as 13 months. Those are a lot better than earning 0% on cash. If you don’t need 100% liquidity, short-term bonds, CDs, and T-Bills are back.

Perseverance and Planning

I believe in long-term investing. Times like these will challenge investors to have the perseverance to stay the course. Rising rates and a possible recession in the months ahead may pose additional losses to our investment portfolios. If I thought we could successfully avoid the losses and step away from the market, I’d do that in a heartbeat. But all the evidence I have seen on market timing suggest it is unlikely to add any value, and would probably make things worse. We will stay invested, continue to rebalance, tax loss harvest, and carefully consider our options and best course of action.

With higher inflation, the cost of living in retirement increases, and so we have to aim for equity-like returns to make plans work. For our clients who are in retirement or close to retirement, we typically have a bucket with 5-years of expenses set aside in short-term bonds. And that bucket is still there and we won’t need to touch their equities for five years. In many cases, we have bonds which will mature in 2023, 2024, etc. in place to fund your spending or RMD needs. So, I am happy we have the bucket strategy in place, it is working as we had planned.

We have shared some inflation investment ideas, but I think the risks to investors may be greater from the Fed. Rising rates and recession are likely in the cards as they look to slow the economy. In spite of the headlines, this will undoubtedly be different than 1981, so I’m not sure we have an exact road map of what will happen. But, I will be your guide to continue to monitor, evaluate, and recommend what steps we want to take with our investments.

How to Reduce IRMAA

How to Reduce IRMAA

Many retirees want to find ways to avoid or reduce IRMAA. Why do retirees hate Irma? No, not a person, IRMAA is Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount. That means that your Medicare Part B and D premiums are increased because of your income. We are going to show how IRMAA is calculated and then share ways you can reduce IRMAA.

Medicare Part A is generally free at age 65, and most people enroll immediately. Part A provides hospital insurance for inpatient care. Part B is medical insurance for outpatient care, doctor visits, check ups, lab work, etc. And Part D is for prescription drugs. When you enroll in Parts B and D, you are required to pay a monthly premium. How much? Well, it depends on IRMAA.

IRMAA Levels for 2022

IRMAA increases your Medicare Part B and D premiums based on your income. There is a two year lag, so your 2022 Medicare premiums are based on your 2020 income tax return. Here are the 2022 premiums, based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income, or MAGI.

2020 Single MAGI

$91,000 or less

$91,001 to $114,000

$114,001 to $142,000

$142,001 to $170,000

$170,001 to $500,000

$500,001 and higher

2020 Married/Joint MAGI

$182,000 or less

$182,001 to $228,000

$228,001 to $284,000

$284,001 to $340,000

$340,001 to $750,000

$750,001 and higher

2022 Monthly Part B / Part D

$170.10 / Plan Premium (PP)

$238.10 / PP + $12.40

$340.20 / PP + $32.10

$442.30 / PP + $51.70

$544.30 / PP + $71.30

$578.30 / PP + $77.90

How to Calculate MAGI

I have written previously about how the IRS uses a figure called Modified Adjusted Gross Income or MAGI. MAGI is not the same as AGI and does not appear anywhere on your tax return. Even more maddening, there is no one definition of MAGI. Are you calculating MAGI for IRA Eligibility, the Premium Tax Credit, or for Medicare? All three use different calculations and can vary. It’s crazy, but our government seems to like making things complex. So, here is the MAGI calculation for Medicare:

MAGI starts with the Adjusted Gross Income on your tax return. For Medicare IRMAA, you then need to add back four items, which you may or may not have:

  • Tax-exempt interest from municipal bonds
  • Interest from US Savings Bonds used for higher education expenses
  • Income earned abroad which was excluded from AGI
  • Income from US territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.) which was non-taxable

Add back those items to your AGI and the new number is your MAGI for Medicare.

Why Retirees Hate IRMAA

The IRMAA levels are a “Cliff” tax. Make one dollar over these levels and your premiums jump up. Many retirees plan on a comfortable retirement and find out that their Social Security benefits are much less than they expected because of Medicare Premiums. For a married couple, if your MAGI increases from $182,000 to $228,001, you will see your premiums double. And while young people think it must be so nice to get “free” health insurance for retirees, this couple is actually paying $8,164.80 just for their Part B Premiums every year! And then there are still deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, etc.

Sure, $228,001 in income sounds a lot for a retiree, right? Well, that amount includes pensions, 85% of Social Security, Required Minimum Distributions, capital gains from houses or stocks, interest, etc. There are a lot of retirees who do get hit with IRMAA. And this is after having paid 2.9% of every single paycheck for Medicare over your entire working career. That’s why many want to understand how to reduce IRMAA.

10 Ways to Reduce MAGI for IRMAA

The key to reducing IRMAA is to understand the income thresholds and then carefully plan out your MAGI. Here is what you need to know.

  1. Watch your IRA/401(k) distributions. Avoid taking a large distribution in one year. It’s better to smooth out distributions or just take RMDs.
  2. Good news, Roth distributions are non-taxable. IRMAA is another reason that pre-retirees should be building up their Roth accounts. And there are no RMDs on Roth IRAs.
  3. Be careful of Roth Conversions. Conversions are included in MAGI and could trigger IRMAA.
  4. If you are still working, keep contributing to a Traditional IRA or 401(k) to reduce MAGI. If you are self-employed, consider a SEP or Individual 401(k). The age limit on Traditional IRAs has been eliminated.
  5. Itemized Deductions do NOT lower AGI. While State and Local Taxes, Mortgage Interest, Charitable Donations, and Medical Expenses could lower taxable income, they will not help with MAGI for IRMAA.
  6. However, if you are 70 1/2, Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) do reduce MAGI. If you are younger than 70 1/2, donating appreciated securities can avoid capital gains.
  7. Avoid large capital gains from sales in any one year. Be sure to harvest losses annually in taxable accounts to reduce capital gains. Use ETFs rather than mutual funds in taxable accounts for better tax efficiency. Place income-generating investments such as bonds into tax-deferred accounts rather than taxable accounts. Consider non-qualified annuities to defer income.
  8. If you still have a high income at age 65, consider delaying Social Security benefits until age 70.
  9. Once you are 65, you cannot contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). However, you may be able to contribute to an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), if your employer offers one. The maximum contribution for 2022 is $2,850 and you may be able to rollover $570 in unused funds to the next year.
  10. Avoid Married filing separately. File jointly.

Life-Changing Event

Medicare does recognize that situations change and your income from two years ago may not represent your current financial situation. Under specific circumstances, you can request IRMAA be reduced or waived if you have a drop in income. This is filed using form SSA-44, as a “Life Changing Event”. Reasons for the request include:

  • Marriage, Divorce, or Death of a Spouse
  • You stopped working or reduced your hours
  • You lost income-producing property due to a disaster
  • An employer pension planned stopped or was reduced
  • You received an employer settlement due to bankruptcy or closure

Outside of the “Life-Changing Event” process, you can also appeal IRMAA within 60 days if there was an error in the calculation. For example, if you filed an amended tax return, and Social Security did not use the most recent return, that would be grounds for an appeal.

A few other tips: If you are subject to IRMAA and have Part D, Prescription Drug, coverage, consider Part C. Medicare Part C is Medicare Advantage. Many Part C plans include prescription drug coverage, so you will not need Part D. And there is no IRMAA for Part C. Lastly, while you can delay Part B if you work past 65, be sure to sign up immediately when you become eligible to avoid penalties.

IRMAA catches a lot of retirees, even though they don’t have any wages or traditional “income”. Between RMDs, capital gains, and other retirement income, it’s common for retirees to end up paying extra for their Medicare premiums. If you want to learn how to reduce IRMAA, talk with your financial advisor and analyze your individual situation. I’m here to help with these types of questions and planning for clients.

Backdoor Roth Going Away

Backdoor Roth Going Away?

Under the current proposals in Washington, the Backdoor Roth is going away. If approved, investors would not be allowed to convert any after-tax money in IRAs to a Roth IRA as of January 1, 2022. This would eliminate the Backdoor Roth strategy and also kill the “Mega-Backdoor Roth” used by funding after-tax contributions to a 401(k) plan.

We have been big fans of the Backdoor Roth IRA and have used the strategy for a number of clients. We will discuss what to do if the Backdoor Roth does indeed go away. But first, here’s some background on Roth IRAs.

The Backdoor Roth Strategy

There are two ways to get money into a Roth: through making a contribution or by doing a conversion. Contributions are limited to $6,000 a year, or $7,000 if you are 50 or older. For Roth IRAs, there are also income limits on who can contribute. For 2021, you can make a full Roth contribution if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income is below $125,000 (single) or $198,000 (married).

If your income is above these levels, the Backdoor Roth may be an option. Let’s say you made too much to contribute to a Roth. You could still make an after-tax contribution to a Traditional IRA and then convert it to your Roth. You would owe taxes on any gains. But, if you put in $6,000, after-tax, and immediately converted it, there would be zero gains. And zero taxes. Yeah, it’s a loophole to get around the income restrictions. But the IRS determined that it was legal and people have been doing it for years.

This change won’t happen until January 1. So, you can still complete a Backdoor Roth now through the end of the year. I have some clients who wait until April to do their IRAs, but this year, you had better do the Backdoor by December 31. If you are eligible for the Backdoor, you should do it. Why would you not put $6,000 into an account that will grow Tax-Free for the rest of your life? Couples could do $12,000 or up to $14,000 if they’re over 50.

Instead of the Backdoor Roth…

Your 401(k) Plan may offer a Roth option. Many people are not maximizing their 401(k) contributions. You can contribute $19,500 to your 401(k), or $26,000 if over 50. Let’s say you are currently contributing $12,000 to your 401(k) and $6,000 to a Backdoor Roth. Change that to $12,000 to your Traditional 401(k) and $6,000 to your Roth 401(k). You can split up your $19,500 in contributions however you want between the Traditional and Roth buckets. I often find that with couples that there is room to increase contributions for one or both spouses.

Self-employed? Me, too. I do a Self-Employed 401(k) through TD Ameritrade. Through my plan, I can also make Traditional and Roth Contributions. And I can do Profit-Sharing contributions on top of the $19,500. It’s better than a SEP-IRA, and there is no annual fee. I can set up a Self-Employed 401(k) for you, too.

What if you have both W-2 and Self-Employment Income? In this case, you can maximize your 401(k) at your W-2 job and then contribute to a SEP for your self-employment. Contact me for details.

Health Savings Accounts. HSAs are the only account where you get both an upfront tax-deduction and the money grows tax-free for qualified expenses. And there’s no income limit on an HSA. As long as you are participating in an HSA-compatible high deductible plan, you are eligible. If you are in the plan for all 12 months, you can contribute $3,600 (individual) or $7,200 (family) to an HSA this year.

529 Plans. You want to grow investments tax-free with no income limits and very high contribution limits? Well, that sounds like a 529 College Savings Plan. If your kids, grand-kids, or even great-grand-kids will go to college, you could be growing that money tax-free. They don’t even have to be born yet, you can change the beneficiary later. We can use 529 plans like an inter-generational educational trust that also grows tax-free. And 529s will pass outside of your Estate, if you are also following the current proposals to cut the Estate Tax Exemption from $11.7 million to $5 million.

ETFs in a Taxable Account. Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are very tax-efficient. Hold for over a year and you could qualify for long-term capital gains treatment. Today, long-term capital gains taxes are 15%, whereas your traditional IRA or 401(k) money will be taxed as ordinary income when withdrawn, which is 22% to 37% for most of my clients. Some clients will drop to the 12% tax bracket in retirement, which means their long-term capital gains rate will be 0%. A married couple can have taxable income of up to $81,050 and pay zero long-term capital gains! (Taxable income is after deductions. If a couple is taking the standard deduction of $25,100, that means they could have gross income of up to $106,150 and be paying zero capital gains.)

Tax-Deferred Annuity. Instead of holding bonds in a taxable account and paying taxes annually, consider a Fixed Annuity. Today, I saw the rates on 5-year annuities are back to 3%. An annuity will defer the payment of interest until withdrawn. There are no RMDs on Annuities, so you could defer these gains for a long-time, potentially. And if you are in a high tax bracket now, you could hold off on taking your interest until you are in a lower bracket in retirement.

Save on Taxes

If Congress does away with the Backdoor Roth, we will let you know. There are a lot of moving parts in this 2,400 page bill and some will change. Whatever happens, my job will remain to help investors achieve their goals. We invest for growth, but we know that it is the after-tax returns that matter most. So, my job remains to help you find the most efficient and effective methods to keep more of your investment return.

Stretch IRA Rules

Stretch IRA Rules

What are the Stretch IRA Rules? The SECURE Act changed the Stretch IRA rules as of January 1, 2020. While this was a proposal, I wrote 7 Strategies If The Stretch IRA Is Eliminated, which continues to get read numerous times every month. Today, we are going to dive into the new rules for IRA Beneficiaries. This is important because if you are leaving a large retirement account to your heirs, there could be a large tax bill! And if you don’t know these rules, you could make it even worse.

First, old Stretch IRAs are unchanged and are grandfathered under the old rules. So, for anyone who passed away by December 31, 2019, their beneficiaries could still inherit the account into a Stretch IRA. That means that they only have to take Required Minimum Distributions each year. They can leave the money invested in a tax-deferred account. For many of my clients with inherited IRAs, their Stretch IRAs have grown even though they are taking annual withdrawals!

Under the new rules, there are three classes of IRA Beneficiaries. First, there are Eligible Designated Beneficiaries (EDBs) who will still be able to use the Stretch IRA Rules. Second, there are non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries (non-EDBs), who are now going to have to withdraw all the money within 10 years. This is called the “10 Year Rule”. Third, there could be a Non-Designated Beneficiary.

Eligible Designated Beneficiaries

There are six situations where an IRA Beneficiary today could use the old Stretch IRA rules.

  1. A Spouse
  2. Minor Children (see below)
  3. Disabled Persons
  4. Chronically Ill Individuals
  5. Persons Not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner
  6. Certain See-Through Trusts

These individuals could inherit an IRA and use the old Stretch IRA rules. For example, if you left money to your sister who is 8 years younger than you, she could do a Stretch. Or to a friend who was disabled. The old rules and benefits will still apply in these cases!

Spouses and Children

Minor Children are not given an unlimited Stretch IRA, unlike in the past. Today, Minor Children can stretch the IRA until the age of majority, 18 or 21, depending on the state. If they are a full-time college student they can stretch until age 26. When they reach that age, then the 10 Year Rule kicks in and they must withdraw the remainder of the IRA within 10 years.

Spousal beneficiaries have a choice in how they treat the inherited IRA. They can roll it into their own IRA and treat it as their own. This is helpful if they are younger than the decedent and want to have smaller RMDs. However, if they are younger than 59 1/2, they might prefer to put it into a Stretch IRA. That way they can take withdrawals now and avoid the 10% pre-mature distribution penalty. If a surviving spouse is older than the decedent, they could use the Stretch IRA so they can put off RMDs until the decedent would have been 72.

Non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries

Any person who is not one of the six EDBs is a non-Eligible Designated Beneficiary. Non-EDBs are must withdraw their entire IRA within 10 years. This would include adult children, grandchildren, or any other relative or friend who is more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner. Most non-spouse beneficiaries will be non-EDBs.

The IRS created some confusion this year as to what the 10 Year Rule Means. One document suggested that beneficiaries would still be required to take out some of the inherited IRA annually. That turns out not to be the case, as the IRS clarified in publication 590-B, Distributions from IRAs. Under the 10 year rule, there is no RMD or annual requirement. Beneficiaries have complete choice in when they withdraw from the IRA. The only requirement is that the whole account is withdrawn in 10 years.

For most beneficiaries, you will still want to draw down a large account gradually. Taking small withdrawals each year is likely to result in lower taxes than if you wait until the 10th year. For example, it would be better to take $100,000 a year for 10 years than $1 million all at once. This does give us some room for customization. If you have a low earning year, that could be a better year to take out a larger amount. If your tax rate will go up in 2022 or 2026, you might want to accelerate withdrawals while under a lower rate.

Non-Designated Beneficiaries

The third category is Non-Designated Beneficiaries. An NDB could occur if you don’t name a beneficiary, if you name your Estate as the beneficiary, or a charity or certain trusts. NDBs have the worst outcome, the old 5-year Rule. NDBs must withdraw the entire IRA within 5 years. Many people who established Trusts prior to 2020 named their trusts as the beneficiary of their retirement accounts. This will backfire now because the Trust cannot Stretch the distributions. And with Trust tax rates higher than for individual beneficiaries, this could hurt your beneficiaries quite a bit. If you have a Trust from before 2020, it should be revisited.

It is important that we review your beneficiaries from time to time to make sure they are up to date. It is also a good idea to have contingent beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiary pre-deceases you. IRAs do not have to go through probate. But if there are no beneficiaries, then this money could be tied up from months to more than a year as the Probate Court decides how to distribute your money.

Roth IRA Stretch Rules

Roth IRAs are inherited tax-free. So, on day one, any beneficiary can withdraw the entire Roth IRA balance and owe zero taxes. However, there are some options available for Roth Beneficiaries, too. And these also changed under the SECURE Act.

First, for spouses. A spousal beneficiary of a Roth IRA could take a lump sum distribution. Or they could roll the inherited Roth into their own Roth. Third, they could roll the Roth into an Inherited Roth account. In an Inherited Roth, they have two options for distributions. They can take annual Required Minimum Distributions based on their own age. Or, they can use the 5-year rule and withdraw the entire amount in 5 years. For most spouses, rolling the inherited Roth into their own will be a good course of action.

Non spouse beneficiaries also have an option to continue tax-free growth of a Roth. For Roth owners who passed away before 2020, beneficiaries could have elected to take RMDs. Under the new rules (owners who passed away after January 1, 2020), Roth Beneficiaries can use the 10 year rule. They have up to 10 years to take money out of their inherited Roth IRA.

Other Considerations

An inherited IRA also has a beneficiary. What happens then? Let say Mom left her IRA to her son years ago. Son has a Stretch IRA. Son passes away and leaves the inherited IRA to his wife. What now? You don’t get to Stretch twice. So the wife, in this case, is going to be under the 10-Year Rule. This is called a Successor Beneficiary.

A second example: Mom passes away in 2020 and leaves her IRA to her son. Son is under the 10-Year Rule. Son passes away in 2025 and names his wife as Successor Beneficiary. Does she get to restart the 10-Year Rule? No, the old rule applies, and she must withdraw the full account by 2030.

If you have a Beneficiary IRA, and are over age 70 1/2, you can also do Qualified Charitable Distributions. Most people don’t realize that QCDs could count towards their RMDs from an inherited IRA, too.

While I often only have one or two clients who inherit an IRA each year, every IRA owner should understand what will happen when they pass away. That’s why I am writing this somewhat technical article on the new Stretch IRA rules. By planning ahead, we can determine the best course of action for your situation. It could involve leaving a your IRA to charity, to a spouse, to children, grandchildren, or a trust. It may make sense to convert your IRA to a Roth.

For many of my clients, their largest accounts are IRAs. And there is a significant tax liability attached to those IRAs, for the owners, spouses, and heirs. If we plan well, we can help reduce those taxes!

What Percentage Should You Save

What Percentage Should You Save?

One of the key questions facing investors is “What percentage should you save of your income?” People like a quick rule of thumb, and so you will often hear “10%” as an answer. This is an easy round number, a mental shortcut, and feasible for most people. Unfortunately, it is also a sloppy, lazy, and inaccurate answer. 10% is better than nothing, but does 10% guarantee you will have a comfortable retirement?

I created a spreadsheet to show you two things. Firstly, how much you would accumulate over your working years. This is based on the years of saving, rate of return, and inflation (or how much your salary grows). Secondly, how much this portfolio could provide in retirement income and how much of your pre-retirement salary it would replace.

The fact is that there can be no one answer to the question of what percentage you should save. For example, are you starting at 25 or 45? In other words, are you saving for 40 years or 20 years? Are you earning 7% or 1%? When you change any of these inputs you will get a wildly different result.

10% from age 25

Let’s start with a base case of someone who gets a job at age 25. He or she contributes 10% of their salary to their 401(k) every year until retirement. They work for 40 years, until age 65, and then retire. Along the way, their income increases by 2.5% a year. Their 401(k) grows at 7%. All of these are assumptions, not guaranteed returns, but are possible, at least historically.

In Year 1, let’s say their salary is $50,000. At 10%, they save $5,000 into their 401(k) and have a $5,000 portfolio at the end of the year. In Year 2, we would then assume their salary has grown to $51,250. Their 401(k) grows and they contribute 10% of their new salary. Their 401(k) has $10,475 at the end of Year 2.

We continue this year by year through Year 40. At this point, their salary is $130,978, and they are still contributing 10%. At the end of the year, their 401(k) would be $1,365,488. That’s what you’d have if you save 10% of your 40 years of earnings and grow at 7% a year. Not bad! Certainly most people would feel great to have $1.3 million as their nest egg at age 65.

How much can you withdraw once you retire? 4% remains a safe answer, because you need to increase your withdrawals for inflation once you are in retirement. 4% of $1,365,488 is $54,619. How much of your salary will this replace? The answer is 41.7%. We can change the amount of your starting salary, but the answer will remain the same. With these factors (10% contributions, 2.5% wage growth, 7% rate of return, and 40 years), your portfolio would replace 41.7% of your final salary. That’s it! That could be a big cut in your lifestyle.

What percentage should you replace?

41.7% sounds like a really low number, but you don’t necessarily have to replace 100% of your pre-retirement income. To get a more accurate number of what you need, we would subtract the following savings:

  • You weren’t spending the 10% you saved each year to your 401(k)
  • 7.65% saved on FICA taxes versus wage income
  • Some percentage saved on income taxes, depending on your pre- and post-retirement income.
  • Your Social Security Benefit and/or Pension Income
  • Have you paid off your mortgage, or have other expenses that will be eliminated in retirement?

Many people will only need 75% to 80% of their final salary in retirement income to maintain the same standard of living. If their Social Security benefit covers another 20%, then they would only need a replacement rate of 55% to 60% from their 401(k).

Time Value of Money

The biggest factor in compounding is time. In our original example of 40 years of accumulation, the final portfolio amount was $1,365,488. However, what if you only save for 30 years? Maybe you didn’t start investing until 35. Perhaps you want to retire at age 55 and not 65? Either way, at the 30 year mark, the portfolio would have grown to $666,122. By saving for another 10 years, your accumulation will more than double to $1.365 million.

Here’s a chart that is perhaps a more useful answer to the question of what percentage you should save. It depends on how many years you will save and what percentage of your income you want to replace.

Income Replacement50%60%70%
in 40 Years12.0%14.4%16.8%
in 35 Years15.7%18.8%22.0%
in 30 Years20.9%25.1%29.2%
in 25 Years28.5%34.2%39.9%
in 20 Years40.3%48.4%56.4%

How do you read this? If you want to replace 50% of your income in 40 years from now, starting at zero dollars, you need to save 12% of your income. Actually, this is pretty close to the 10% rule of thumb. But no one says “If you are starting at age 25 and are planning to save for the next 40 years, 10% is a good rule of thumb”. What if you are starting later? Or, what if you want to have your portfolio replace more than 50% of your income.

As you reduce the accumulation period, you need a higher contribution rate. For example, at the 50% replacement level, your required contribution increases from 12% to 15.7% to 20.9% as you go from 40 to 35 to 30 Years. And if you are planning to retire in 20 years and have not started, you would need to save 40.3%.

Similarly, if you want your portfolio to replace more than 50% of your income, the percent to contribute increases as you stretch to 60% or 70%. These figures are quite daunting, and admittedly unrealistic. But one thing that may help slightly will be a company match. If you contribute 10% and your company matches 4% of your salary, you are actually at 14%. Don’t forget to include that amount!

What can you do?

We’ve made some conservative assumptions and perhaps things will go even better than we calculated. For example, if you achieve an 8% return instead of 7%, these contribution requirements would be lower. Or if the inflation rate is lower than 2.5%. Or if you can withdraw more than 4% in retirement. All of those “levers” would move the contribution rate lower. Of course, this cuts both ways. The required contribution rate could be higher (even worse), if your return is less than 7%, inflation higher than 2.5%, or safe withdrawal rate less than 4%.

If you want to consider these factors in more detail, please read the following articles:

If you’d like to play around with the spreadsheet, drop me an email ([email protected]) and I’ll send it to you, no charge. Then you can enter your own income and other inputs and see how it might work for you. While our example is based on someone who is starting from zero, hopefully, you are not! You can also change the portfolio starting value to today’s figures on the spreadsheet.

The key is this: Begin with the End in Mind. The question of What percentage should you save depends on how long you will accumulate and what percent of income you want to replace in retirement. Saving 10% is not a goal – it’s an input rather than an outcome. Having $1.3 million in 40 years or $2.4 million in 35 years is a tangible goal. Then we can calculate how much to save and what rate of return is necessary to achieve that goal. That’s the start of a real plan.

You don’t have to try to figure this out on your own. I can help. Here’s my calendar. You are invited to schedule a free 30 minute call to discuss your situation in more detail. After that, you can determine if you’d like to work with me as your financial advisor. Sometimes, it isn’t the right fit or the right time, and that’s fine too. I am still happy to chat, answer your questions, and share whatever value or information I can. But don’t use a Rule of Thumb, get an answer that is right for your personal situation.