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COVID college costs

College Costs in the Era of COVID-19

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Paying for College in the Era of COVID-19

This semester, millions of students, teachers, and college administrators are having to deal with a radically changed landscape while still managing college costs. At many institutions, classes have been cancelled or moved online. Sports programs have been suspended and dormitories, libraries, and labs shuttered. In fact, traditional campus life has been turned upside down thanks to COVID-19, and it’s unclear how long it will last.

Meanwhile, the cost of a college education is higher than ever. According to the College Board, the average total charges at four-year public colleges (in state) for the 2019-2020 academic year were $21,950. Average costs at four-year private nonprofit colleges were more than double that ($49,870).1 And while increases in costs have moderated in recent years, they continue to outpace inflation and median household income, resulting in a growing dependence on student loans; the average student borrower graduating in 2018 owed about $29,000.2

For cash-strapped students and parents, the current crisis has tipped the scales. Many are rebelling at the high costs in the face of a severely diminished college experience. Others have decided to wait until the crisis has passed before enrolling. Still others are questioning the very value of a college degree under current circumstances.

But the issue of soaring college costs is hardly new, and there are two sides to consider.

Students and Parents: Give Us a Break!

“We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for,” comments one California parent, incensed at paying in-person prices for education that has moved online. On-campus facilities and services like computer labs, libraries, and networking opportunities have also been severely diminished by closures.

Already suffering from a pandemic-induced recession, many families are feeling the pinch and want relief. Students in particular have been hard hit with furloughs and layoffs, as many rely on retail service jobs to help them get by — the same jobs that have suffered the most in the face of closures and lockdowns. Many students had also signed leases for off-campus housing and are now stuck with them even if classes are cancelled. In short, students and parents are demanding tuition rebates, increased financial aid, reduced fees, and leaves of absences to compensate for what they feel is a diminished college experience.

Colleges: How Can We Manage?

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are taking a major financial hit from the pandemic. Enrollment is down. International admissions and offshore semesters have been halted. Entire programs have had to be suspended for health reasons. What’s more, substantial resources are required to set up an online curriculum, administer the courses, and train educators. There are also major costs involved with constant COVID testing of students and disinfecting of classrooms, offices, and other facilities. And, colleges must continue to pay existing vendor contracts, maintain facilities, and compensate their own staff. The situation has created an existential crisis among smaller colleges, who lack the endowments and funding of larger institutions. For many, it’s a question of survival.

A Mixed Response to Managing College Costs

Given this predicament and the widely varying circumstances faced by different institutions, it’s no surprise that their responses vary widely. A handful of universities have announced substantial price cuts. Some have cut fees. But most have kept prices flat, and a few have even increased them. While many offer refunds of fees and room and board, the reimbursement policies vary from school to school — and nearly all have drawn the line at tuition. Here’s a sampling of actions taken — or not — by different schools:

  • Full or partial refunds for room and board costs
  • Reduced tuition and fees
  • Discounts in the form of scholarships or loans
  • Renegotiated financial aid packages
  • Frozen tuition at previous year’s level
  • Imposition of “COVID fees” to cover added costs
  • Increased tuition to cover added expenses

Which of these actions a given school takes depends largely on its financial health and reputation. Smaller, private colleges with more at stake are generally offering more in the form of relief. Larger, well-endowed institutions, such as the Ivy League colleges and large state schools, trend toward the status quo. But there are many exceptions, and each institution has its own approach.

What Can You Do?

If you are a student or parent seeking compensation or relief, your options are limited, especially for the current semester. At nearly all institutions, tuition reimbursement is almost nonexistent after several weeks, no matter what the circumstances. Some schools are now offering tuition insurance, but coverage typically applies only when a student withdraws for medical reasons. To find out what relief may be available at your school, contact the registrar.

Alternatively, you can join the thousands of students and parents who have signed petitions or filed lawsuits demanding tuition cuts, housing reimbursements, and more. Check online to see if any such actions may be already in the works at your school.

In the end, like so many other issues arising from the pandemic, the current predicament facing students and schools is likely to be with us until a COVID-19 vaccine is in place. Even then, skyrocketing costs and mounting student debt pose longer-term issues. Any resolution will take time and likely have far-reaching implications for the costs and nature of a college education.

Notes:

1The College Board, Trends in College Pricing 2019.

2The College Board, Trends in Student Aid 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

roth conversion

Converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA

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Thinking of Converting Your Traditional IRA to a Roth? Now May Be the Time

Anyone who is thinking of converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA may want to consider do it this year. Why? Because today’s unique conditions create an opportunity to minimize the tax bite from converting. In fact, many have already taken advantage of this opportunity, with one provider reporting a 67% increase during the first four months of 2020 compared to a year earlier.1

But before you begin to decide whether or not to convert, make sure you are familiar with what’s involved with a Roth conversion.

What’s a Roth Conversion?

When you convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, any deductible contributions you had made, along with any investment earnings, are taxed as ordinary income for the year of the conversion. That means the taxable value of the conversion could push you into higher federal and state tax brackets.

You will be responsible for full payment of all taxes in the year the conversion is made. If you use assets from the traditional IRA to pay those taxes, the tax amounts could be treated as premature withdrawals, so you could be subject to additional taxes and penalties.

Depending upon your personal financial situation, a Roth IRA conversion could potentially provide a tax-adjusted benefit over time, provided you meet the eligibility requirements.

Why Now?

The coronavirus pandemic has created unique conditions that may make a Roth conversion more attractive than usual.

Your taxable income may be lower

If, like millions of Americans, you have been furloughed or laid off, or your sales commissions are down, you will likely report lower taxable income for 2020. This may put you in a lower tax bracket so that monies converted to a Roth would be taxed at a lower rate than would otherwise apply (unless the amount converted pushes you into a higher bracket). For instance, converting a $15,000 IRA when your marginal federal tax rate is 12% saves $1,500 of tax compared to converting at a 22% marginal rate — and that does not include state tax, which might also drop.2

Your business may incur a loss

The pandemic is causing many businesses to close or incur a loss. If you expect to report a business loss on your personal return, you may be able to convert to a Roth at a reduced tax cost. With the Roth conversion creating additional income, you could use the loss generated by the business to offset some or all of that income.

Your IRA balance may be down

To minimize taxes, it’s better to convert assets when they’re low in value. Although U.S. stocks have recovered most of the ground lost in February and March, it’s possible your IRA balance may still be well off its peak, depending on how it is invested.

RMDs are suspended for 2020

As part of the CARES Act, required minimum distributions (RMDs) for traditional IRAs and qualified retirement plans were suspended for this year. Not taking distributions from a traditional IRA might keep or put you in a lower tax bracket by reducing your taxable income, making it even more desirable to convert to a Roth.

Current tax rates are low and could go up

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced federal tax rates, cutting the top marginal rate to 37%. That’s relatively low compared with recent history. Given the staggering price tag of the pandemic bailout (so far) and the ballooning budget deficit, it’s reasonable to assume that at some point, tax rates may increase. When this might happen is anyone’s guess, but converting while rates are relatively low is something to consider.

To Convert or Not?

Whether you would be better off leaving your funds in a traditional account or moving all or some of them to a Roth IRA will depend upon your personal circumstances. Generally speaking, Roth IRA conversions are best suited for investors who have significant time until retirement, are high wage earners, think they may be in a higher tax bracket at retirement, or are looking for an estate planning tool to help pass wealth to their heirs.

Whatever your circumstances, keep in mind that IRS rules governing IRAs and conversions are complex. So be sure to consult with a financial or tax professional before deciding.

Source/Disclaimer:

1Money, Roth IRA Conversions Are Surging. Here’s Why This Retirement Savings Strategy Is So Popular Right Now, June 4, 2020.

2Example is for illustration only. Your results will differ.

Traditional IRA account owners have considerations to make before performing a Roth IRA conversion. These primarily include income tax consequences on the converted amount in the year of conversion, withdrawal limitations from a Roth IRA, and income limitations for future contributions to a Roth IRA. In addition, if you are required to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) in the year your convert, you must do so before converting to a Roth IRA.

 This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

 

retiring early

Retiring Early Because of the Coronavirus

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Should You Take An Early Retirement?

The story is a common one these days. You have been furloughed or laid off, just a few years before you plan to retire. Or, your work-from-home arrangement is ending, and you’re not keen on resuming the commute or going back to a crowded workspace. Retiring early may be a good idea, since fate has presented the opportunity?

Many 50- and 60-somethings are asking themselves this very question. In fact, the average American retires at age 61.1 But, that’s at least five years away from collecting full Social Security retirement benefits, not to mention pensions, which typically begin at age 65, when available. What’s more, Medicare coverage does not begin until age 65, leaving early retirees with potentially hefty health insurance premiums until Medicare kicks in.

Anyone contemplating retiring early will want to plan carefully and ask several important questions.

When Should You Begin Collecting Social Security?

You can begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. But you will face a significant reduction if you start before your normal retirement age: from 66 to 67, depending upon when you were born. Those choosing to collect before that age face a reduction in monthly payments by as much as 30%. Also, there is a stiff penalty for anyone who collects early and earns wages in excess of an annual earnings limit ($18,240 in 2020).

What age is best for you will ultimately depend upon your financial situation as well as your anticipated life expectancy. For most people, holding off until normal retirement age is worth the wait. But you may want to consider taking your benefits earlier if:

  • You are in poor health.
  • No longer working and need the benefit to help make ends meet.
  • Earn less than your spouse and your spouse has decided to continue working to help earn a better benefit.

How Will You Fund Health Care Costs?

A big obstacle to early retirement is health insurance. If you are working for a company that pays all or most of your health insurance, you could face hundreds of dollars in added monthly expenses if you retire before age 65. Plus, most companies no longer offer retiree health benefits, and if they do, the premiums can be high or the coverage low. In addition to health insurance premiums, there are also co-pays, annual out-of-pocket deductibles, uncovered procedures, and out-of-network costs to consider — not to mention dental and vision care costs.

On the positive side, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits insurance companies from discriminating because of preexisting illnesses and limits how much they can charge based on age. And for those with lower incomes, government subsidies may be available.

What Will Early Retirement Mean for Your Investing and Withdrawal Strategies?

Perhaps the most significant concern for early retirees — one that is often overlooked — is how retiring early will impact their investing and withdrawal strategies. Retiring early means taking larger distributions from your retirement savings in the early years until Social Security and pension payments begin. This can have a significant impact on how long your savings last, perhaps more so than if larger distributions are taken later in retirement. Consider the following:

  • Delay withdrawals from tax-favored retirement accounts, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or 401(k) plans. The longer you wait to withdraw this money, the more you can potentially benefit from tax-deferred compounding. Instead, consider tapping into taxable accounts first.
  • Adjust your withdrawal rate to help ensure that your savings will last throughout a lengthened retirement. Financial planners typically recommend a 4%-5% annual withdrawal rate at retirement, but you may want to lower this since you will need your savings to last longer.
  • Structure your investments to include a significant growth element. Since your money will have to last longer, you will want to consider including stocks or other assets that carry high growth potential. Stocks are typically more volatile than bonds or other fixed-income investments but have a better long-term record of outpacing inflation.

So, if the coronavirus pandemic has left you thinking about retiring early, make sure you are prepared. The first place to start is with a detailed plan that includes estimated income and expenses. Work with a financial professional to put in place a plan that factors in all of the necessary elements you will want to consider.

 

Source/Disclaimer:

1Source: Gallup, Snapshot: Average American Predicts Retirement Age of 66, May 10, 2018.

 

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

 

estate plan

Your Estate Plan: Time for a Checkup

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Your Estate Plan: Time for a Checkup

COVID 19 has brought tragedy to many families and businesses and impacted personal finances. It has also rendered many an estate plan inaccurate and unrepresentative of current circumstances. If you, your family or your beneficiaries have been affected by the virus, you may need to review and make changes to your plan. Consider the following questions in your review.

Are your beneficiary designations still accurate?

If you have lost someone named in your estate plan, you’ll need to make the appropriate changes. This could include changing beneficiaries, trustees, executors, healthcare decision-makers, your legal power of attorney or any other parties named in the plan.

You’ll also want to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up-to-date for your retirement accounts, such as an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or 401(k), where beneficiaries are designated directly, rather than through your will.

Has the size of your estate changed?

If you have taken a financial hit as a result of the pandemic, then you may need to adjust some aspects of your estate plan. Adjustments may also be needed if the size of your estate has increased significantly. A large change in the total value of your assets could affect the distribution of your assets, particularly if you have made specific bequests to individuals or charities rather than dividing your estate proportionally. If you own a business, you may also need to consider how its value may have changed and how that might impact your plans to pass on control.

Are your minor children still protected?

If you have named a guardian for your minor children, check to ensure that person is still willing and able to serve in that role. And ask yourself if you still have confidence in your choice of guardian. A different job, a move out of state, or other changed circumstances may make your original choice no longer optimal.

In addition, it may make sense to keep the financial responsibilities of guardianship separate from the actual care of the minor children. You could choose a professional fiduciary to provide financial management on behalf of the minor children and name a family member to provide their actual day-to-day care.

Is your life insurance coverage still appropriate?

If your circumstances have altered materially as a result of the pandemic, you may also want to take a look at your life insurance coverage, too. Any significant changes to your life — births, deaths, marriages, or divorces — could affect your life insurance needs. It’s important to ensure that you have adequate coverage for you and your loved ones.

Do you have up-to-date documents?

Any updates needed as a result of your review will need to be reflected in your estate documents. These typically include a will, healthcare proxy, and power of attorney. They may also include a living will or trust documents. Keep in mind, however, that estate planning can be a complex endeavor. Therefore, any estate planning decisions or changes are best made with the help of a qualified legal professional and the rest of your professional team.

 

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change.

irrational exuberance

Irrational Exuberance: Stocks and the Economy

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Stocks and the Economy: Irrational Exuberance

When Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan made his famous pronouncement on the stock market back in 1996, the economy was strong and the Internet bubble was just starting to inflate. In fact, “irrational exuberance” would seem to be a more fitting label for today’s market.

Between March 23 and June 8, the S&P 500 rose over 44%, putting it less than 5% shy of its all-time high set in February. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 27,500, just 7% short of its record and the NASDAQ Composite hit new highs. Although markets have taken some jolts since then, stocks are still doing surprisingly well.1

The economy, however, presents a very different picture. Unemployment in the U.S. skyrocketed to 14.7% in April and then fell slightly to 13.3% in May, still the highest levels since the Great Depression. Institutional loan default rates are up sharply, and bankruptcy filings are expected to follow suit, especially among retailers. The Congressional Budget Office expects second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to tumble by 12%, its largest drop since the early 1930s, and the Federal Reserve has cautioned that it could take time for the economy to bounce back, especially if second-wave virus outbreaks emerge. In fact, many economists are calling for a drawn out recovery, with fits and starts, as secondary waves of infections keep some businesses shuttered and scare consumers away from stores and travel.

To put the disparity in perspective, consider some recent bear markets and their economic fallout. In the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the S&P 500 lost 56% of its value. Yet unemployment never topped 10%, and GDP fell only 2.5% in 2009. Or, consider the dotcom bust, when the S&P 500 fell 49% (and the NASDAQ Composite lost three quarters of its value). The ensuing economy saw unemployment top out at 6.3%, while annual GDP growth remained positive.

Clearly, the current market would seem to be at odds with economic reality. But there are several different factors at work here.

Stocks Are Not the Economy

As Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Samuelson, famously quipped back in the 1960s: the stock market has predicted nine of the past five recessions. Paul Krugman, another Nobel laureate, suggests three rules when considering the economic implications of stock prices: “First, the stock market is not the economy. Second, the stock market is not the economy. Third, the stock market is not the economy.”2

As both men emphatically point out, the dynamics driving stocks differ from those driving the economy. The major market indexes such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) or the S&P 500 reflect a limited segment of the economy, and the majority of stocks are owned by a small percent of the population. The widely followed DJIA, for instance, is composed of just 30 blue-chip stocks. Even the broader S&P 500 index contains only the largest of U.S. companies. Small businesses, which represent the lion’s share of U.S. businesses and employ almost half of Americans working in the private sector, have little representation in stock indexes. Yet it is those smaller businesses, many with limited cash reserves, which are taking the biggest economic hit from the pandemic.

Stock index prices are also driven largely by constituent companies’ earnings and profits, which may have little to do with economic metrics such as unemployment. Furthermore, stocks are highly sensitive to interest rates and monetary policy changes, which typically take much longer to be felt in the economy.

Government Moves to Shore Up the Economy Have Been Unprecedented

The optimism of investors in the face of economic freefall may be justified in part by the bold steps taken by the Federal Reserve and Congress to stem the fallout from lockdowns and closings. The Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates, increased the money supply, and taken different measures to support capital markets. For its part, Congress has passed unprecedented stimulus legislation, boosting weekly unemployment checks by $600, and passing such bills as the CARES Act. Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration is also supporting businesses through its Paycheck Protection Program. Collectively, such moves — and many others by state and local governments — not only provide immediate relief to millions of companies and workers, they also send the message to investors that the government is willing to take whatever steps are necessary to get the economy back on track.

Stocks Are Still the Investment of Choice

Long before the coronavirus struck, anyone seeking return was turning to stocks. Yields on bonds and cash had been historically low for years. Now, with recent interest rate cuts, that trend is more pronounced than ever. As of June 1, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. government bonds was only 0.66%, down from more than 3% in late 2018.3 After inflation is factored in, that works out to a negative return. Meanwhile, higher-yield bonds are riskier than ever as cash-strapped issuers may struggle to make interest payments. So it’s no wonder that capital continues to gravitate toward stocks — even in the face of economic turmoil — since they appear to be the only game in town with potential for return-hungry investors.

The Road Ahead

Whether stocks will continue on a divergent path from the economy is anyone’s guess. Ultimately, the longer-term health of both the stock market and the economy will largely hinge on the success in slowing and stopping the pandemic. But any resolution will take time, and there will likely be bumps in the road.

Also keep in mind that trying to time the market’s ups and downs is a losing game. Anyone heeding Greenspan’s warning back in 1996 would have missed out on three of the best-performing years in recent stock market history. So stick to your plan, expect volatility, and consult with a professional before making any major financial decisions.

 

 

Notes

1Google Finance.

2New York Times, Crashing Economy, Rising Stocks: What’s Going On?, April 30, 2020.

3U.S. Department of the Treasury, Daily Treasury Yield Curve Rates, June 1, 2020.

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change.

References to markets, asset classes, and sectors are generally regarding the corresponding market index. Indexes are unmanaged statistical composites and cannot be invested into directly. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment and do not reflect fees, expenses or sales charges. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

 

The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index (S&P500) is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

 

Dow Jones Industrial Average is the most widely used indicator of the overall condition of the stock market, a price-weighted average of 30 actively traded blue chip stocks, primarily industrials. The 30 stocks are chosen by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The Dow is computed using a price-weighted indexing system, rather than the more common market cap-weighted indexing system.

 

The NASDAQ-100 is composed of the 100 largest domestic and international non-financial securities listed on the NASDAQ Stock Market. The index reflects companies across major industry groups including computer hardware and software, telecommunications, retail/wholesale trade and biotechnology, but does not contain securities of financial companies.

 

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, through GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory.

 

 

The CARES Act and Your Retirement Savings

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Think Twice Before Tapping into Your Retirement Savings

New legislation — the CARES Act — permits qualified individuals to take early distributions from their retirement assets, such as their 401(k) or individual retirement account (IRA) — penalty free. The rules – which sunset after 2020 – are designed to help the many cash-strapped Americans who have suffered financially as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. But tapping into your retirement savings has its costs, and there may be better ways to shore up your short-term cash flow.

The CARES Act

The Act permits qualified individuals to take distributions of up to $100,000 from their IRA or workplace retirement savings plan (if allowed by the plan) without incurring the 10% additional tax on early distributions that would otherwise generally apply to distributions made prior to age 59½. Amounts withdrawn may be repaid within three years, if desired. Note, however, that ordinary income taxes apply to all pretax funds withdrawn, although taxpayers may elect to report the income over three tax years instead of one.

These coronavirus-related distributions may only be made to a “qualified individual” on or after January 1, 2020, and before December 31, 2020. A qualified individual includes anyone who has been diagnosed with the SARS-CoV-2 virus or with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or whose spouse or dependent has been diagnosed. It also includes individuals who experience adverse financial consequences as a result of: being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, or having work hours reduced due to SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19; being unable to work on account of a lack of childcare due to the virus or disease; closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to the virus or disease; or other factors as determined by the Treasury Secretary.

The Act also relaxes rules on borrowing from a retirement plan account. If authorized by the plan, qualified individuals may borrow as much as $100,000 or 100% of their vested account balance. These limits are effective from March 27, 2020 to September 22, 2020.

Additionally, qualified individuals with an outstanding loan (on or after March 27, 2020) may delay loan repayments due during the period from March 27, 2020 to December 31, 2020 for up to one year.

Consider the Costs

Withdrawing or borrowing money from your retirement account may seem like an easy way to shore up your short-term cash flow, but there are long-term costs to consider. Most notably, if you withdraw funds and don’t repay them, you’ll be reducing your retirement nest egg, perhaps significantly. And making up for withdrawn balances means contributing more — potentially much more — down the road. That’s because time is a critical ally when saving for retirement. The more time your contributions and earnings have to grow, the better the chance you will be able to reach your retirement savings goals.

If you don’t withdraw the funds altogether, but just borrow them from your plan, you must generally pay back the loan within five years, or earlier if you lose your job or leave your employer voluntarily before the loan is paid back. Otherwise, it will be considered a taxable distribution, requiring you to pay income tax on the amount of the loan. What’s more, current law protects funds held in a qualified plan from creditors in the event of a bankruptcy. So if you are experiencing extreme financial difficulty, keeping funds in your qualified plan may be one way to limit the damage. Even if you’re allowed to defer some loan payments because of the CARES Act, you’ll want to weigh the potential downsides before borrowing.

There May be Better Alternatives

As any financial professional will attest, borrowing from your future to fund today’s temporarily negative cash flow is generally not a good strategy. Instead, consider other sources of funds such as:

  • Short-term loans
  • Tapping into a home equity line of credit
  • Borrowing from friends or relatives

You also may want to consider ways to reduce current costs until your cash flow improves.

  • Reduce credit card payments by consolidating balances on a low-rate card
  • Contact current lenders to arrange for a temporary payment freeze
  • Cut back on discretionary expenses and make a budget

Also keep in mind that the provisions of the CARES Act are temporary. So if the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic has left you strapped for cash, try to maintain a long-term focus and stick to your plan.

                                                                                                                                                                            

 

This material was prepared by LPL Financial.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial professional prior to investing.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.

Managing Finances during COVID19

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Smart Financial Strategies for Unexpected Events

A once-in-a-lifetime event such as the coronavirus pandemic forces us to reassess many things we may have taken for granted. Most of us take our personal good health for granted. Many of us assume we will always get by financially, that we will always be able to earn money in some way, and that, in a worst-case-scenario, the government will be there to step in and help.

But assumptions are always there to be challenged. And adverse situations always should teach us some lessons. What lessons can we take away from the current crisis that will help us better prepare for an event that appears suddenly and upends many of our day-to-day activities? Specifically, what steps should we take to ensure that we will have enough money set aside to see us through another crisis? What can we do going forward so that we will be able to pay our bills and handle unforeseen expenses if we lose our jobs? Why is it a good idea to limit our debt burden, and how can we achieve this goal?

Here are some ideas that could jump-start your thinking.

Spend Less Than You Earn

It’s easier said than done. But it is one of the most effective ways of building up your savings and your personal wealth. You may have to reevaluate what you consider important — especially if shopping has always been enjoyable for you. You can still shop, just not as often and only for items that you or your family members truly need.

Set yourself a goal of setting a percentage of your pay aside for savings. If need be, start small so you don’t get discouraged. Then, increase the percentage you save after a few months.

Look for Ways to Boost Savings

Now that you have decided to spend less than you earn, you can start to look seriously at ways to increase your savings. For example, you may be able to find some extra cash by shopping around for better rates on your utilities, cell phone service, and auto or home insurance. If your credit score is good, you may be able to find a credit card with a lower interest rate than you currently pay. And, if you can afford the closing costs, refinancing your mortgage could potentially unlock some solid savings.

If you do not have a budget, now is the time to create one. A budget can help most people organize and control their spending. If you track your spending for a few months, you can use that information to cut back on impulse buying and spending on nonessential items and redirect that money to savings and investments.

Be sure to direct some of that money to your own emergency fund. An emergency fund should be used to pay for unexpected, large expenses so you don’t have to borrow the money. Financial experts say that, ideally, your emergency fund should be able to cover six months of living expenses — including mortgage and auto payments. It sounds like a lot to save, but you may be surprised how much you can save when you focus on that goal.

Take Control of Your Debt

Debt is like savings in reverse. When you are in debt, you keep paying interest on goods and services that you probably consumed two or three years ago. If you carry consumer debt, now is the time to get a handle on that situation. You are not in a good place if:

  • Your credit card balance is growing
  • You are paying only a minimum on your bills
  • You are missing payments or paying late.

For every loan and credit card you carry, find out how much you owe, the interest rate, and the payment schedule. You can use this information to figure how much money you can afford to put toward paying down your debt and how long it will take. These strategies can help:

  • Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first;
  • Transfer your balance to a card with a lower interest rate; and/or
  • Pay more than the minimum amount. Paying more than the minimum is critically important since the less you pay, the greater the interest will be and the longer it will take to pay off your balance.

Every few months, check your expenses to see if you can find other funds to use to reduce your debt. If possible, consider part-time work and use what you earn to pay off your debts. In the meantime, do not take on additional debt. Try using cash (or your debit card) instead of credit for as many transactions as possible.

Protect Your Earning Power

If you are a working parent, your family’s financial well-being is tied closely to your ability to make a living. If you were to have an accident or fall ill, your disability could destabilize your finances. If you do not have a private disability income insurance policy, consider getting one. The payments from the policy would help pay for critical everyday expenses when your disability prevents you from working and collecting a salary. Before you purchase insurance, though, make sure you understand the policy’s definition of disability and all the other policy terms.

 

You also may want to name someone you trust to make financial and health care decisions if you become unable to make them for yourself. Talk to your attorney to learn more about the options available in your state. And you might consider setting up a living trust that allows the trustee of the trust to handle your financial affairs if you cannot.

Review Your Investing Strategy

Finally, remember that risk is a given in investing. Some investments carry a higher risk of loss than others. However, riskier investments typically offer higher potential returns than more conservative alternatives. When you invest you have to decide how much investment risk you can comfortably handle while seeking higher returns, and choose your investments accordingly. It helps to review your investing approach and your tolerance for possible investment losses at least once a year.

Facing the Future

Every crisis is different. However, those who think ahead and have some strategies in place to deal with the financial aspects of a crisis are potentially more likely to do better than those who do not plan.

 

This material was prepared by LPL Financial.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial professional prior to investing.

The cost and availability of Life Insurance depend on many factors such as age, health, and amount of insurance purchased. In addition to premiums, there are contract limitations, fees, exclusions, reductions of benefits, and charges associated with policy. And if a policy is surrendered prematurely, there may be surrender charges and income tax implications. Any guarantees are contingent upon the claims-paying ability of the issuing company.

Should You Refinance?

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timing the market

Thinking of Timing the Market?

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Thinking of Timing the Market?

Volatility is back and so is the idea of timing the market. The sustained rally that produced 30%+ gains in the S&P 500 in 2019 and continued into 2020 came to an abrupt halt in late February, when fears of the new coronavirus epidemic and its effects on the economy swept Wall Street and beyond. Markets across the globe plummeted, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 1,000 points in one day. More drops followed, and volatility has ensued as investors try to grapple with the spreading epidemic and its potential impact on trade, travel, and the global economy.

The Futility of Market Timing

The situation presents a tempting scenario for timing the market — those who try to predict when stock prices will rise and fall. Should you sell before it gets worse? Should you buy while prices are down? What about parking your money in bonds until the epidemic runs its course?

While timing your purchases and sales to capitalize on the market’s ups and downs may seem to make sense in theory, it’s extremely difficult to pull off successfully. Typically, you can’t accurately pinpoint a market high or low point until after it has occurred. If you move your money out of stocks during a low period, you might not move your money back in time. By the time you realize stocks are on an upswing, it may be too late to take advantage of gains.

In fact, history has shown that trying to time the market’s ups and down is a loser’s game. Even the experts, with their analytical prowess and sophisticated computer models, cannot manage to consistently beat the market. A landmark study by CXO Advisory Group tracked more than 4,500 forecasts by 28 self-described market timers between 2000 and 2012. Only 10 were able to accurately forecast equity returns (as measured by the S&P 500) over 50% of the time, and none were able to predict accurately enough to outperform the market.1 Nobel Laureate William Sharpe calculated a market timer would have to be correct 74% of the time — on both the market decline and recovery — to outperform another investor who just lets their money sit in a passive portfolio of comparable risk.1

Dealing with crises such as the coronavirus epidemic requires patience and a level head. Here are some suggestions to help you weather the storm:

Don’t panic. Selling into a plunging market is often a sure way to lock in a loss. Talk with a financial advisor before you act. He or she can help you separate emotionally driven decisions from those based on your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Researchers in the field of behavioral finance have found that emotions often lead investors to read too much into recent events even though those events may not reflect long-term realities. With the aid of a financial professional, you can sort through these distinctions, and you’ll likely find that if your investment strategy made sense before the crisis, it will still make sense afterward.

Consider Time in Market Instead. Clearly, time can be a better ally than timing. Instead of trying to time the market, you may be better off with a well-coordinated investment strategy based on your personal risk tolerance and time frame. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, the stock market has always recovered from every downturn.

So think twice before trying to time the market’s dips and corrections, and work with your financial advisor to ensure that the investments you select are in keeping with your goals.

Source/Disclaimer:

1Source: Index Fund Advisors, Inc. (IFA.com), 2014. Based on a study by CXO Advisory, © CXO Advisory Group LLC.

 

 

Deciding When to Start Taking a Pension

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Deciding When to Start Taking a Pension

Most businesses today do not offer a pension plan. But pensions are still a common benefit for teachers, federal employees, and others who work in the public sector. Many grandfathered private-sector plans also still exist. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 30 million public and private sector American workers participate in a pension plan.1

For those fortunate enough to have a workplace pension, one of the critical decisions you’ll need to make is when to begin collecting. Although payments typically begin at age 65, many plans allow you to start collecting your retirement benefits as early as age 55. But if you decide to start receiving benefits before you reach full retirement age, the size of your monthly payout will be less than it would have been if you’d waited. So the question is: when is the optimal time to start, so that you maximize your total payments?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. What works best for you will depend upon a number of different factors. Here are some points you’ll want to consider before deciding.

Longevity. The longer you live, the better off you will be by delaying your pension payments. Although nobody can pinpoint exactly how long they will survive, they may be able to make a guesstimate. Today’s newborns have an average life expectancy of close to 79 years. A man who reaches age 65 has a life expectancy of about 83; a woman, about 86. Those in good health with a family history of longevity stand a good chance of exceeding these figures. What’s more, medical advances have helped increase these averages over time. As a result, many people today can look forward to retirements of 30 years or longer.

Specific terms of the pension plan. The terms of a pension vary widely from plan to plan. A typical pension plan’s payout depends on years of service. So your timing may depend on when you hit a threshold year. Other factors affect payout, such as whether overtime and bonuses count toward your payout or if benefits are capped at a certain percentage of salary. Many plans also offer cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). So make sure to check the terms of your specific plan.

Is the pension safe? Although there are federal and state laws that seek to ensure that a given pension plan meets all its payment obligations, there is no guarantee that that will be the case. Pension plan defaults have been rare, but no pension plan is bulletproof. If a local government entity or private corporation falls on hard times, it could affect pension payouts. It’s no secret that many large public plans are underfunded. Some estimates put the collective shortfall in the trillions. Whether such underfunding will eventually reduce benefits in a particular plan is anyone’s guess. But the upshot for prospective pensioners is that it may not be wise to pin all your retirement hopes on one pension plan.

Personal circumstances. Everyone has individual needs and financial situations. You may have other sources of retirement income — Social Security, an individual retirement account (IRA), a 401(k) plan, or other retirement savings. You may also plan to cash in on a home or other real estate to help fund your retirement. Or, you may have a spouse with his or her own pension plan. Whatever your circumstances, be sure to factor them into your decision.

Compare Cumulative Payouts2

The following chart shows the cumulative payments of a hypothetical pension plan, for early (age 60), full (age 65), and late (age 70) start times. It assumes a pension of $3,000 per month or $36,000 per year at full retirement age; that payments are fixed, with no COLA increases; and that the pension decreases 5% for each year of early retirement and increases 5% for each year of late retirement (until age 70).

Note where the lines cross each other. An early start will result in the highest cumulative benefit until you hit age 80. After that point, “full” timing begins to net a higher cumulative payout. And if you opt to wait until age 70, your cumulative benefit won’t outpace a full benefit until you reach age 90.

Keep in mind that this example is for illustration purposes and may differ from your actual experience. Talk with a financial advisor who can help you decide when is the best time to start taking your pension payouts.

Notes

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey for 2018.
2Illustration is hypothetical. Your plan will differ.