Hate Your 401(k) Options? Try This

As you probably know, I’m a big believer in the humble 401(k) plan. Even though it’s a very basic tax shelter widely available to regular middle-class Americans, I challenge you to find something better. I’ve spent my entire professional career looking, and I have yet to find one.

If you religiously max out your 401(k) plan every year (currently $19,000 per year or $25,000 for those 50 or older), it will likely grow to become your single largest financial asset.

There’s just one big, glaring problem with the 401(k): The investment options are often terrible.

Cruddy Investment Options 

Most plans are limited to a menu of mediocre mutual funds that move the same direction as the market. They’re fantastic when the stock market is moving higher but a financial death sentence during a bear market. The gallows humor following the 2008 bear market was that “My 401(k) just became a 201(k).” That joke will be making the rounds again after the next bear market.

And these days, hiding in bonds won’t do much for you. With yields now hitting new all-time lows almost daily, a portfolio invested in bond funds is essentially dead money.

Some 401(k) plans have a brokerage window that allows you to buy individual stocks. That’s a nice feature if your plan offers it, but it’s not available on most plans.

No matter how cruddy the investment options are in your 401(k), taking the funds out really isn’t an option. If you’re under 59 ½, you’d have to pay a 10% penalty, and at any age you’d have to pay taxes on whatever you pull out.

An Alternative to a 401(k)

Well, I have good news for you. If you hate your 401(k) investment options, you might be able to bail on them without triggering a tax nightmare. It can be possible to roll over your 401(k) balance into an IRA while you’re still working.

As you probably know, you can always roll over your 401(k) into an IRA whenever you switch jobs or retire. But if you’re 59 ½ or older, you can legally do the same thing without having to quit your job. This is what’s called an “in-service rollover.”

Your plan might or might not offer this. It really just depends on your employer. But if your company plan does offer it, an in-service rollover might be exactly what you need.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Hate Your 401(k) Options? Try This

What The New SECURE Act Means For Your IRA

How can you argue with an act of Congress named “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” (SECURE)? Who wouldn’t want an enhanced retirement?

The SECURE act, which recently passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 417-3, is now being debated in the Senate. And at first glance, it looks great. If passed, Americans over the age of 70 ½ would still be able to contribute to traditional IRAs. And the dreaded required minimum distributions (RMD) wouldn’t start until age 72.

With Americans living and working longer, these are solid, if not exactly revolutionary, enhancements.

There’s just one big problem with it. The SECURE Act, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump, would turn the world of inheritance and estate planning upside down.

The Not-So Secure Act

Today, you can leave your traditional IRA to your spouse with no tax consequences. Your IRA simply becomes their IRA upon your death, and they’re then required to take RMDs based on their own life expectancy. And the IRA could then be passed on your children upon the death of your spouse, with the RMDs then based on their life expectancy.

Depending on how long your heirs and their heirs live, your original IRA can potentially be stretched out forever, indefinitely deferring the taxes on the accumulated gains.

Well, all of that might now be changing. Under the new rules, non-spouse inherited IRAs would have to be distributed within 10 years of the death of the original account owner.

Now, before this starts to sound like a scare piece, the IRS isn’t “coming after your IRA” to seize it. At least not yet. But there are some things to keep in mind.

There Are Some Key Takeaways Here

To start, the IRS will be getting more of your money and sooner. By forcing you or your heirs to distribute your IRAs sooner, your gains become taxable sooner. Ultimately, this means that your nest egg will grow slower or deplete faster.

Of course, money taken as an IRA distribution doesn’t just disappear. Once you pay the taxes on it, you’re free to reinvest it in a regular, good-old-fashioned brokerage account. It’s still able to grow and compound. It just loses the tax advantages of an IRA.

But I don’t like Congress moving the goal post on us. If they shorten the distribution timeline, they are setting a precedent for making IRAs less advantageous. That’s a remarkably short sighted move. In trying to get your money a couple years earlier, they are disincentivizing people to save for retirement.

Given that the average American has nowhere near enough money saved to last them through their golden years, that’s just about the last thing our government should be doing.

So, with all of this as a backdrop, will IRAs still make sense under the new rules?

It’s A Resounding Yes

The changes impact your heirs. I hate that my kids or future grandkids would have to pay more in taxes. But this doesn’t affect me. I still pay less in taxes today with every dollar I shelter in my 401(k) and other retirement plans, and the nest egg I need to support myself in retirement will grow a lot more quickly.

And while we’re on that subject, we’re now well into the second half of the year, but there is still plenty of time to increase your contributions to your retirement plan. You can put $19,000 into your 401(k) plan this year, not including company matching, and $25,000 if you’re 50 or older.

If you’re not on track to hit those limits, try to increase your savings rate, even if it’s just a couple hundred dollars per month. Every dollar you contribute lowers your tax bill and gets you one step closer to leaving the rat race in style.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as What The New SECURE Act Means For Your IRA

3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser

The following first appeared on Kiplinger’s as 3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser.

Your choice of financial adviser might be the single most important decision you ever make, short of your spouse or maybe your doctor.

While you might not be putting your life in his or her hands, per se, you’re certainly putting your financial future at risk. A good adviser can help you protect the savings you’ve spent a lifetime building, and – with good planning and maybe a little luck from a healthy stock market – grow it into a proper nest egg.

But how do you choose?

Let’s take a look at some traits you’ll want to look for, as well as three questions you’ll want to ask any prospective candidate.
What you want in a financial adviser

An older adviser with a little gray in their hair might instinctively seem safer, but ideally you don’t want an adviser that will kick the bucket before you do. However, going with a younger adviser introduces greater uncertainty as they will generally have a shorter track record.

Likewise, educational pedigree matters … but not as much as you might think. You can assume that an adviser with an Ivy League degree is highly intelligent and motivated, and those are qualities you want to see. But these same characteristics can make for lousy investment returns if they mean the adviser is overconfident. Investing is a game in which discipline, patience and humility generally matter more than raw brains and ambition.

As Warren Buffett famously said, “Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with the 130 IQ.”

Yes, you want your adviser to be smart. But don’t be overly swayed by fancy degrees.

To finish reading the article, please see 3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser.

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as 3 Things You Should Always Ask a Financial Adviser