What’s my number?? – Making sense of Financial Planning

Financial Plan #2Dear Mr. Market:

Let’s be honest… the vast majority of hard working Americans have one question in common – Will I be able to retire?  The circumstances pertaining to each individual are as different and unique as the individual themselves. The one connecting point we all have however, is to know if we are going to be able to reach our goals, whatever they might be.

Have you seen some of the commercials where an actor asks you if you know how much you need to retire? Other commercials have people carrying around a huge cut-out of a random numbers …like $1,456,298 around with them.  What’s your magic retirement number? Where should an individual go to get their many questions answered?  With few guarantees how is anyone to know if they are on track to reach their goals?

There is certainly not a lack of financial planning services and products available to consumers today.  It can actually be a bit overwhelming and frustrating for the average person.  Any Financial Plan should be viewed as a guide or a benchmark, serving as a road map to the ultimate destination.  As with other financial service offerings there are many different elements that need to be taken into consideration. Let’s take a moment to look at some of the more important ones and put it in plain English using some common phrases we are all familiar with….. Continue reading

The New “MyRA” … A Direct Route To Retirement Or A Bad Detour?

Dear Mr. Market:

MyRA#7

If you ask the average hard working American what their top financial concerns is, it’s that that they won’t be able to retire.  We could certainly go on and on about different solutions and how people can get on track to make their dreams a reality but today we will focus on a new program offered from the government.  On January 29th President Obama delivered his State of the Union address.  One of the takeaways from this speech was a new retirement account called MyRA (short for My Retirement Account).

Currently over half of the U.S. workforce is not covered by a retirement plan through their employer.  MyRA is targeted at low to middle-income workers, encouraging them to save for their own retirement.  Contributions will be funded through automatic payroll deductions where individuals can start with as little as $25 and contribute amounts as small as $5.  Individuals would be guaranteed that their account would never go down and they will not pay any fees on the accounts.  Sounds like a great product doesn’t it?!  Well let’s take a step back and dig a bit deeper to really explore what the MyRA is all about….

The MyRA can essentially be viewed as a way to introduce individuals that have not saved or funded a retirement account to the many long-term benefits of doing so. At this point companies are not required to be involved in the program, if President Obama wants to force employers to participate a vote from Congress would be required.  The accounts would be funded with after tax dollars much like a Roth IRA.  While it will be funded with payroll deductions individuals will be able to keep their accounts when they change jobs.  MyRA is subject to Roth IRA income and contributions limits.  Individuals can invest up to $5.500 per year (or $6,500 for investors 50 or older); once the owner reaches the age of 59 ½ they can make withdrawals tax-free.  There are also no required minimum distributions (R.M.D.’s). Continue reading

Windhaven Portfolios: Is Schwab just blowing hot air?

Dear Mr. Market:

The investment industry is notorious for not being transparent with investors.  The industry tends to be a shade of grey as opposed to being black and white. There are often hidden agendas or conflicts of interest that the average investor is never aware of or informed about.  Think back to some of the situations that have negatively impacted investors in just the last few years: Bernie Madoff, Insider Trading, the Mortgage Industry debacle and the meltdown of Enron!  Conflict of interest is essentially why the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is now in existence.

Conflict of InterestOccurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation. (from Wikipedia).

WindhavenToday we will take a look at an investment firm that has had incredible growth over the last several years: Windhaven Investments.

schwabIn 2010 Charles Schwab & Company (SCHW) purchased a small investment advisory firm in Boston named Winward Investments.  The firm’s strategies had posted impressive results for several years and didn’t use the industry standard ‘buy and hold’ type of approach.  They used primarily ETF’s (Exchange Traded Funds) and claim to invest in over 40 different sectors, participating in positive markets and protecting in downturns.  Schwab paid a hefty price for the firm, paying $150 million in cash and stock (source: WSJ). Continue reading

Are you really looking for horrible investment advice?

Dear Mr. Market,

How great would it be to have a job where you could constantly deliver results short of expectations and never have to worry about being fired?  What if you could always simply blame your lack of performance on random external forces or global events?  Imagine if you had a yearly performance review that went something like this…

 “You missed your target goals by 28% and were wrong more often than you were right!  Nice work, we are going to give you a bonus and a 10% raise!”

pay performance

 This doesn’t happen in the real world…or does it?!  The financial services industry has become notorious for overpaying executives even when the company itself is struggling to survive or is even on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.  For example, Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers was one of the 25 best-paid CEO’s for eight years straight – right up until his firm collapsed in 2008.  It has been called ‘”the largest bankruptcy in history”;  it triggered a chain reaction that produced the worst financial crisis and economic downturn in 70 years!  What about professionals in the financial industry that consistently underperform but are not at risk of losing their jobs? Continue reading

Where to find a top advisor?!

Top advisor - magnifying glassSo…if you’re looking for the best financial advisor there is do you simply run a quick search on Google? Would it look something like ” best financial advisor in Denver” or “best financial advisor in Orange County”?  Would you rely on a list that ranks the best financial advisors?

In nearly every aspect of our lives we rank products or services and take pride if we are associated with or use that brand.  How often have you heard that a product has a “Gold Star Rating” or is recommended by ‘Consumer Reports’?  It should be no surprise that the same applies when it comes to the Financial Services industry.  Investors want to work with the best and often rely on rankings issued by various publications and websites for this information.

The key difference is that there are many more variables that need to be taken into consideration when looking at the financial industry and ranking firms or individuals.  In this article we will take a look at a list that is published annually and is highly respected – ‘Barron’s Top 1,000 Advisors List’.  Through our discussion it will become clear why ranking financial professionals is not as easy as ranking cars or laundry detergent and the results need to be looked at closely. Continue reading

“The Retirement Gamble” : How to Tip the Odds in your Favor….

retirement gambleDear Mr. Market:

How many times have we heard the comment that investing in the stock market is like gambling in Las Vegas?  The market allows people to build up their account balances and confidence only to watch it all be taken back and possibly more.  Many people experience this in ‘Sin City’ as their stacks of chips build up only to watch the casino take them all back in what seems like the blink of an eye.  While we could certainly debate the similarities and differences between Vegas casinos and the stock market there is no doubt that both have left investors feeling as though the system is rigged against them.

How nice would it be if you could tip the odds in your favor in Vegas?  What if you could see what the next card or roll of the dice would be or simply improve your chances of winning?  If investing is truly like gambling what if you could increase the odds that your retirement savings would grow more and be there for you when you need them in the future?

Recently we have heard from several investors about a very powerful and informative television report featured on Frontline titled “The Retirement Gamble”.  This presentation pulls back the curtains and exposes many of the dark and hidden secrets of the financial industry that the average investor is not aware of.  There are several factors that investors can control and limit the negative impact on their portfolio resulting in a profound difference on long-term portfolio returns.  We encourage everyone to watch the online presentation of “The Retirement Gamble” that first aired on April 23, 2013.  The presentation is approximately 50 minutes long however it could possibly be the most critical education you’ll ever receive on investing.

“The Retirement Gamble”, Frontline on PBS, April 23, 2013

This show does a tremendous job of getting down to the basics and avoiding all the financial jargon that clutters the industry.  It empowers the average investor to understand many of the key aspects of investing that they need to be aware of and more importantly what they can control.  Below are some of the key points that can be taken away from this program along with some charts and our thoughts: Continue reading