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Dollars and Sense

 

There are many myths concerning money, with many of them transcending generations of people in the same family. The truth is that many of these myths — including the one about how money will make you happy and solve all your problems — are false. Worse, these myths tend to limit one’s thinking and limit their financial success.

By Charlie Epstein

 

Most people do not realize they have myths about their money.

And even more people don’t take the time to analyze where these myths come from and why people hold them to be true.

I have worked with thousands of people over the past 41 years as a financial advisor. In the process, I have identified 15 myths people have about their money, which limit their financial and personal success.

A myth is defined as “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify something.” The biggest myth we have about money is that “it will make me happy and solve all my problems.”

Do you think money makes you happy?

Are you sure? Want to bet?

Did you know that 90% of all lottery winners go bankrupt within three to five years of winning the lottery? I’m talking millionaires. And the majority have stated they wish they never won the money. They’re miserable, depressed, and suicidal. How can this be?

“I am convinced that your money myths limit your thinking and impact how you approach your life and your finances.”

This happens because the most important thing in their life has been to get money, and now that they have it, they have no idea what to do with it. They often go on a massive shopping spree and buy all sorts of material items that don’t bring any lasting joy or fulfillment. And, more importantly, they stop working or doing anything productive to give their life purpose, meaning, and real value. What they fail to do is stop and ask themselves, “beyond money, what makes me happy?”

I am convinced that your money myths limit your thinking and impact how you approach your life and your finances. The three biggest financial myths most people have are:

1. My home mortgage needs to be paid off when I retire so I don’t have a payment;

2. I’ll be in a lower tax bracket when I retire; and

3. My home is an investment.

My father believed all three of these myths. When he retired, he and my mother moved to Florida to build the house of their dreams, on the golf course of his dreams. He was going to pay cash for that house — $500,000. He was 68 at the time. I said, “Dad, I want you to take out a mortgage instead.”

My dad was shocked. “A mortgage! For how long?”

I said, “for 30 years.”

“Thirty years!” my Dad bellowed. “I’ll be dead before it’s paid off!”

“So what do you care?” I smiled. “You’ll be dead!”

To which my father asked, “what will your mother do?”

I said, “she doesn’t play golf, and she doesn’t play mahjong, so if you die before her, I will sell that house and move her back north!”

I convinced my Dad to put $100,000 down and finance the other $400,000 with a 30-year mortgage at 5%. This was 1992. Bill Clinton had come into the White House and raised the marginal tax rate from 36% to 39.6%. There went money myth #2 — the belief he would be in a lower tax bracket when he retired (a belief I am sure many of you reading this article share).

That didn’t happen. The good news was, he could write off and deduct 40% of his mortgage payments in the first 15 years because it was all mostly interest. My dad was now ‘leveraging’ other people’s money (OPM) by using the bank’s money to take out a mortgage, and Uncle Sam’s money (USM) by deducting 40% of his mortgage payments.

The net cost for my dad to borrow the bank’s money was 3% (5% x 40% = 2%, which he could deduct, so his net cost to borrow that money was 3%). I said to my parents, “If I can’t make you net more than 3% on your $400,000, fire me as your financial advisor.” We averaged 7% to 8% on their money for the next 13 years of his life.

When my dad passed away, I sold my mother’s home in Florida, at a $100,000 loss. This was 2005, and the real-estate market in Florida was overbuilt, and no one wanted to be on a golf course. So much for the third money myth about your home being an investment. I than moved my mother back north and built her a home in an over-55 community. She was 79 at the time, and she said to me, with a twinkle in her eye, “son, do I get to take out a mortgage?” My mother is now 94, and she still has a mortgage — at 2.5%.

What does my mother care about? She only cares that she has enough money to pay for everything she desires to do. What do I care about? That I’m not tying up her money in a ‘dead asset’ — her home. She can’t eat it or drink it, and it doesn’t generate any income for her. And it is not an investment. I know I can make more than 2.5% on her money by using OPM to generate her even more income.

The key to being financially successful with your money is to understand how to maximize OPM and USM to make money on ‘the spread.’ The spread is the difference between what it costs to use other people’s money and what you can make investing your money somewhere else.

Let me add one big caveat to this discussion. If, psychologically, you must have your mortgage paid off so you can sleep at night … then pay it off. I always say psychology trumps economics. Just remember, you may feel good having it paid off, but economically, you won’t make as much of a return on your money and your assets.

 

Charlie Epstein is an author, entertainer, advisor, entrepreneur, and principal with Epstein Financial. He also presents a podcast, Yield of Dreams; yieldofdreams.live; (413) 478-8580.

Wealth Management

How the Pandemic is Reshaping This Decision for Americans

By Jean M. Deliso, CFP

 

After a year of Zoom calls, a deadly virus, inflated real-estate values, and a crazy stock-market surge, many Americans, mostly Baby Boomers, who can afford to retire are taking the plunge.

This pandemic caused mayhem for everyone. It drove the healthcare industry almost to collapse, families lost loved ones prematurely, parents became teachers, and many businesses did not survive. But amid all the gloom and doom was a silver lining for many. The government became efficient with quick economic actions, families re-evaluated the benefits of family time, pollution got a brief time out, and businesses became more electronically efficient, to name a few.

Through all the challenges, people took time to re-evaluate their priorities in life. Many are choosing to rethink their future and what is important to them going forward. In fact, about 2.7 million Americans 55 or older are contemplating retirement years earlier than they had imagined because of the pandemic, according to a Bloomberg report. Between increasing retirement-account values, those lucky enough to have pensions, an increase in home values, and government funds that have been put back into the economy, retirement is happening sooner than expected for many.

Jean M. Deliso

Jean M. Deliso

“Whatever your circumstance, achieving your retirement objectives will not happen automatically. The earlier you start planning, the better off your chances are of enjoying a happy, fulfilling, and long retirement.”

As a certified financial advisor, I have met with many individuals contemplating retirement who have decided “enough is enough — life is too short.” Some reasons include a scare with cancer five years ago that made my client reconsider his commitment to climbing the corporate ladder, or “I’m just not happy doing what I’ve been doing for years; it’s no longer fun.” Potential retirees have either saved enough or have decided to spend less in their retirement years.

In contrast, many Americans who were pushed out of their jobs by the economic slide of the pandemic had to take an early retirement against their wishes. This has resulted in them receiving lower Social Security benefits and pension amounts. Twenty-two percent say the pandemic has forced them to spend their emergency savings, 10% have reduced their retirement-plan contributions, and 12% have withdrawn money from their retirement accounts, according to a survey by the National Institute for Retirement Security.

Unfortunately, both scenarios have resulted in increased stress to Americans in the workforce regarding retirement. None of us know our date of death, which makes retirement planning tricky for most.

Too many Americans rely solely on Social Security. This pandemic proved that those benefits do work; checks were consistently received by Americans as the pandemic raged around them. This experience shows that the Social Security system works. Also, checks were sent to those who couldn’t find jobs.

Whatever your circumstance, achieving your retirement objectives will not happen automatically. The earlier you start planning, the better off your chances are of enjoying a happy, fulfilling, and long retirement. Here are a few steps to consider for a successful retirement:

1. Determine your cost of retirement. This includes your monthly living expenses, your age to retire, and your life expectancy.

2. Apply your income sources. Review what you will have available to you, such as Social Security, pensions, immediate annuity payments.

3. Withdraw from your portfolio assets. Take withdrawals against your portfolio assets to make up any difference needed. These assets may include brokerage accounts, money-market accounts, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, and annuities. (Withdrawals may be subject to regular income tax and, if made prior to age 59½, may be subject to a 10% IRS penalty. In addition, surrender charges may apply.)

4. If necessary, consider changes. If, after steps 1-3, you are falling short on your plan, consider changes such as saving more, redefining your retirement age, or considering part-time employment during retirement.

5. Consider a professional. This can help you clarify your goals and objectives in retirement.

 

Jean M Deliso, CFP is a financial adviser offering investment-advisory services through Eagle Strategies LLC, a registered investment adviser.

Wealth Management

And When It Comes to Investing, That’s Not a Good Thing

By Jeff Liguori

 

Malcolm Gladwell, prolific non-fiction writer, journalist, and podcaster, has written extensively about mastering a subject. In his book Outliers, Gladwell builds upon the idea that it takes a person 10,000 hours to become a master, or expert, at something.

The premise was originally put forth nearly 50 years ago by two academics, Herbert Simon and William Chase, and published in the American Scientist specifically to address how one becomes an expert chess player. Gladwell elaborated on the idea by saying that an innate ability, or even exceptional intelligence, on a particular subject was not enough to excel or master that subject. In an article he wrote for the New Yorker in 2013, he stated “nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery. And second — and more crucially for the theme of Outliers — the amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help.”

Today it seems that expertise is under attack. Whether it is climate science, economics, or healthcare. There are no hurdles to gathering information, factual or not, which has emboldened many to opine on, and in some instances act on, areas for which they are not equipped. Being informed and questioning authority is not a bad thing. But acting as an expert has the potential for serious long-term damage.

Let’s break down the 10,000 hours concept. A young woman decides on majoring in accounting her junior year in college. She has four semesters until graduation, where most of her classes are related to her major. Let’s assume that is a total of 100 hours of study. She graduates, gets a job in a major accounting firm where she likely works 50 hours per week. At night she studies for her CPA exam. After three years, between college study, work, and prepping for the CPA, she has logged approximately 3,200 hours of work in a single subject: accounting.

And it is likely in a specific area, either audit or tax work. At 25 years of age, she is about one third of the way toward the 10,000-hour rule. This is precisely why a business or individual, with complex accounting issues, would not hire a young person with that level of experience. The analogy could be made for doctors, lawyers, or diesel mechanics as well.

In the investment field, the information needed to manage one’s money is widely available. I’m not aware of a network that dedicates 24 hours to the practice of medicine. But turn on CNBC and it is a non-stop barrage of stock quotes and ideas, complete with bright colors, loud voices, and blinking lights. It thrives on our culture of excitement and reality TV.

Almost anyone with a decent Internet connection can invest his or her hard-earned funds. And early success reaffirms the dangerous bias that ‘I’m a talented investor.’ Until one morning, inevitably, that “hot stock” that had appreciated 78% is down 50% before the market even opens because the drug the company produced killed people in the FDA trial, or the company missed earnings by a wide margin, or the CEO was a fraud. Much of which could’ve been fleshed out by skilled analysis and a disciplined approach to investing to avoid such scenarios.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the do-it-yourself trend. However, the intersection of social media, and the assault of information from a variety of sources (some questionable), has empowered many to shun traditional expertise that has been built upon years of study. Logging on to WebMD to diagnose your poison ivy or watching a YouTube video on installing a garbage disposal, or even learning about a public company’s business on Yahoo! Finance is smart. Reputable sources with solid information. But these are part-time tasks, which don’t carry significant consequences if done incorrectly. They are suited for the curious individual with a penchant to learn.

But for more complex matters, requiring a longer success horizon — say preserving your retirement funds to support your lifestyle once your earning years are over — it is best to leave that to a full time, educated, disciplined professional. They’re called experts.

 

Jeff Liguori is the co-founder and chief Investment officer of Napatree Capital, an investment boutique with offices in Longmeadow as well as Providence and Westerly, R.I.; (401) 437-4730.

Wealth Management

A Seeming Disconnect

By Jean M. Deliso

Have you wondered how the S&P 500 stock-market index has been trading at near all-time highs when, in the second quarter, S&P 500 corporate earnings were down compared to the first quarter of 2020, daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. are currently stable or declining, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July unemployment report showed more than 16 million unemployed Americans, with an unemployment rate of 10.2%?

That question is a good one, with the seeming disconnect between what the stock market has been doing and what we are seeing in the news and the U.S. economy. No doubt the stock market was arguably pricing in what the economy will look like a year from now and what the market sees as significant pent-up demand, a fading pandemic-induced economic impact, and a wall of liquidity coursing its way through capital markets.

The real question is whether investors should be concerned about the U.S. stock market hitting all-time highs with the economy still bruised and slowly recovering. Could this mean a crash or major correction is coming?

Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso

“There is a chance the economy one year from now will be in better shape than it is today — or it may be worse. But being a participant in the market for the long haul means participating in the growth and losses that happen between now and then, and always focusing on your investment time horizon.”

No one truly knows the answer to that question. But we know that market corrections and bear markets are normal and common; we just don’t know when they will arrive or how long they will last. And if anyone tells you ‘with certainty’ when a market downside is coming and how long it will last, you might want to run the other way.

When thinking about where the markets and economy could go in the next year and beyond, it’s useful to break it down by key categories:

Economics. The pandemic-induced recession has been steep and ugly. But there is a good argument that the worst of the crisis could be behind us. Manufacturing and service activity have rebounded, the housing market has seen very solid activity, and spending has outpaced expectations, according to the Washington Post.

Earnings. Second-quarter earnings were bad, plain and simple. But at the same time, earnings were not as bad as the double-digit expectation of Wall Street, and clearly stocks love positive surprises. Will earnings continue to improve going forward? That is the question — and we all hope the answer is ‘yes.’

Interest Rates. Overnight rates in most developed countries are near historic lows, meaning borrowing costs and financing costs are highly attractive for businesses and individuals that can obtain loans. The Federal Reserve also signaled plans to keep interest rates near zero for years; these actions make equities attractive by comparison.

Inflation. The amount of global stimulus is massive; the total global fiscal and monetary stimulus being deployed amounts to approximately 28% of world GDP, according to the Wall Street Journal. This ‘wall of liquidity’ makes inflation seem more likely in the coming years and will be a factor to watch.

Sentiment. Consumer and investor sentiment is improving in the wake of the pandemic, but may sour as the election nears.What’s the bottom line for investors? The nature of bull markets is that we can expect the stock market to reach new highs over time. This is what history has told us to expect every time. That said, I would caution against seeing an all-time high in the S&P index as a reason to go completely defensive. When setting a long-term investment strategy, it is important to consider how the economy may grow or contract in the next six, 12, or even 18 months, and how that plays into your personal goals and objectives. If your retirement date is close, it is always prudent to review how much safe money you may need to weather an unexpected storm.

There is a chance the economy one year from now will be in better shape than it is today — or it may be worse. But being a participant in the market for the long haul means participating in the growth and losses that happen between now and then, and always focusing on your investment time horizon.

Jean M. Deliso is a registered representative offering securities through NYLIFE Securities, LLC (member FINRA/SIPC), a licensed insurance agency. Deliso Financial and Insurance Services is not owned or operated by Eagle Strategies, NYLIFE Securities, LLC, or any of their affiliates.

Wealth Management

Shared Expertise

Empower Retirement and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual) announced they have entered into a definitive agreement for Empower to acquire the MassMutual retirement-plan business. The acquisition will capitalize on both firms’ expertise, provide technological excellence and deep product capabilities, and create scale to the benefit of retirement-plan participants and their employers.

Based on the terms of the agreement and subject to regulatory approvals, Empower will acquire the retirement-plan business of MassMutual in a reinsurance transaction for a ceding commission of $2.35 billion. In addition, the balance sheet of the transferred business would be supported by $1 billion of required capital when combined with Empower’s existing U.S. business.

The MassMutual retirement-plan business comprises 26,000 workplace savings plans through which approximately 2.5 million participants have saved $167 billion in assets. It also includes approximately 2,000 employees affiliated with MassMutual’s retirement-plan business who provide a full range of support services for financial professionals, plan sponsors, and participants.

“Empower is taking the next step toward addressing the complex and evolving needs of millions of workers and retirees through the combination of expertise, talent, and business scale being created,” said Edmund Murphy III, president and CEO of Empower Retirement. “Together, Empower and MassMutual connect a broad spectrum of strength and experience with a shared focus on the customer. We are excited about the opportunity to reach new customers and serve even more Americans on their journey toward creating a secure retirement.”

“We believe this transaction will greatly benefit our policy owners and customers as we invest in our future growth and accelerate progress on our strategy.”

The transaction, expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020 pending customary regulatory approvals, will increase Empower’s participant base to more than 12.2 million and retirement-services record-keeping assets to approximately $834 billion administered in approximately 67,000 workplace savings plans.

“In Empower, we are pleased to have found a strong, long-term home for MassMutual’s retirement-plan business, and we believe this transaction will greatly benefit our policy owners and customers as we invest in our future growth and accelerate progress on our strategy,” said Roger Crandall, MassMutual chairman, president, and CEO. “This includes strengthening our leading position in the U.S. protection and accumulation industry by expanding our wealth-management and distribution capabilities; investing in our global asset-management, insurance, and institutional businesses; and delivering a seamless digital experience — all to help millions more secure their future and protect the ones they love.”

The MassMutual retirement-plan business has grown substantially over the past decade, with the number of participants served doubling to more than 2.5 million and assets under management more than quadrupling from $34 billion to more than $160 billion.

The combined firm will serve retirement plans sponsored by a broad spectrum of employers. These include mega, large, mid-size, and small corporate 401(k) plans; government plans ranging in scale from state-level plans to municipal agencies; not-for-profits such as hospital and religious-organization 403(b) plans; and collectively bargained Taft-Hartley plans. The transaction will also bring MassMutual’s defined-benefit business under the umbrella of plans Empower serves.

Empower and MassMutual intend to enter into a strategic partnership through which digital insurance products offered by Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC3, and MassMutual’s voluntary insurance and lifetime income products will be made available to customers of Empower Retirement and Personal Capital.

Empower today administers $667 billion in assets on behalf of 9.7 million American workers and retirees through approximately 41,000 workplace savings plans. Empower provides retirement services, managed accounts, financial wellness, and investment solutions to plans of all types and sizes, including private-label record-keeping clients.

In August, Empower announced it had completed the acquisition of Personal Capital, a registered investment adviser and wealth manager. The Personal Capital platform offers personalized financial advice, financial planning, and goal setting, providing insights and tools for plan participants and individual investors. In addition, Empower’s retail business provides a suite of products and services to individual retirement-account and brokerage customers.

Wealth Management

Reaching the Summit

Several of those who hiked Mount Washington as part of a team-building exercise at St. Germain Investments pose for a photo at the summit.

For a good part of its 95-year existence, St. Germain Investment Management has been focused on the last two words in its name. But over the years, it has evolved into a financial-planning company that will take a check and invest it, but also help clients with everything from devising a plan to pay for college to determining when someone can retire.

Mike Matty was dressed casually on this Friday, which was unusual, because, in general, he doesn’t do casual Friday — or casual any other day, for that matter.

But there was a reason.

In a few hours, he would be heading up to Mount Washington in the Presidential Range to do some advance work — such as collecting the keys for the rented condos and other logistical matters— for a rather unique team-building exercise, with the emphasis squarely on exercise.

“A lot of those rules of thumb came about decades ago, back when there were traditional pensions and people retired at 65. And if you did retire at 65, you didn’t have 15 years worth of traveling ability in front of you because you didn’t have artificial knees and hips and stents; all that has changed.”

Indeed, as he did last year, Matty, a seasoned climber who has accomplished the rare feat of summiting the highest mountain on every continent, would be leading a team of employees at St. Germain Investments, spouses, and even a few children on a hike up Mount Washington, the 6,288-foot peak — the highest in the Northeast — famous for everything from its cog railway to its notorious, quickly changing weather.

“You’re not starting at zero, you’re starting at 2,600 feet or so, but it’s still a good hike up, and it’s a great challenge for people,” said Matty, president of St. German, who could have used those same words (and does) to describe the task of financial planning. “There are a lot of people here who have never done anything like this.”

Matty told BusinessWest that, while it might seem natural that he would take the point, as they say, in this climb and lead his team up the mountain from the front, he would instead be “leading from behind,” as he put it in an e-mail to the roughly 30 people, representing all age groups, who would be joining him.

“I’m back there cheering on the people who are having a hard time and struggling a bit and feeling that maybe they should turn around or that they’re going too slow and holding everyone up,” he said, adding that the first mile or so “isn’t bad,” then the next mile is very steep, then there’s another generally flat portion, and then it gets quite steep again.

Listening to this, one could, and should, see myriad parallels between what Matty was doing for his employees on the Mount Washington climb and what his team at St. Germain does for clients on a daily basis — provide advice and encouragement, help others take advantage of accumulated knowledge and experience, and yes, assess risk.

“It is a lot like financial planning and investing,” he said. “You set a goal and a path for getting there. And if conditions aren’t right, you pull back and turn around; it’s all about risk assessment and doing everything you can to be ready. That’s what we help people do.”

These thoughts sum up what has been a significant change at St. Germain, one that has taken place over the past few decades or so. In the past, the company was strictly as asset manager, while today it is engaged in virtually every kind of financial planning, right down to the well-attended seminar on Medicare planning that it staged recently.

“Years ago, this was an asset-management business,” he explained. “It was really just ‘come in, give us a check, and we’re going to manage the assets for you.’ Today, we’re much more actively involved with the financial-planning side of it.”

Elaborating, he said the company is now involved with helping clients decide when they can retire, when they should start taking Social Security, whether they can afford a vacation home, whether they should invest in municipal bonds in the state they intend to move to, and myriad other aspects of financial planning for today and especially tomorrow.

Mike Matty says climbing a mountain is a lot like financial planning — they both involve setting goals, devising strategies for meeting them, and assessing risk.

It’s a sea change of sorts, and the evolutionary process continues — the company recently hired someone to exclusively develop financial plans for clients through the use of acquired software, a hire that speaks volumes about how the company has grown and evolved in recent years, said Matty.

For this issue and its focus on financial planning, BusinessWest talked at length with Matty about how the company serves clients on perhaps the most important climb of their lives, and how it works with them to help ensure that achieving financial security isn’t necessarily an uphill climb.

Upward Mobility

Like anyone who has climbed Mount Washington a number of times, Matty has his own large supply of stories about the peak — and especially about its famous weather and measured wind speeds well north of 100 miles per hour.

“I have a video that I took two years ago,” he said. “I’m literally standing on top of Mount Washington; there’s a 50-mile-per-hour wind, a few inches of snow on the ground, there’s snow blowing by me — and it’s September 1st!”

That anecdote provides yet another parallel between climbing a mountain and achieving financial security for the long term, said Matty, adding that life, much like the weather on Mount Washington, can change quickly and, quite often, unexpectedly.

Thus, the very best strategy is to have a good plan and be prepared — for anything.

And that, in a nutshell, is what St. Germain Investments has been helping its clients do for nearly a century now — the company is marking its 95th anniversary this year.

Much has changed since 1924, as Matty noted, and even over the past few decades, as the company’s focus has shifted from simply managing money to assisting clients with the myriad aspects of financial planning — from determining how college can and should be paid for (often, several generations of a family share the load these days), to determining when to sell the family business, to deciphering how Medicare works, hence that aforementioned seminar.

Which was not your run-of-mill Medicare seminar, such as the one you might see at the local senior center, said Matty, but rather one led by experts who can speak to questions and concerns raised by the typical St. Germain client, a couple or individual who has managed to accumulate some assets and save successfully for retirement.

That seminar, as well as the recently hired financial planner — who was among those on the hike to the top of Mount Washington — are some of the many obvious indications of change and growth at the firm, said Matty, who said there are a number of ways to measure success at St. Germain.

He listed such things as profound growth in assets under management (the number is now just over $1.5 billion) to similarly profound growth in the workforce — there are now 23 employees. There’s also a new satellite office in Lenox with its own brand (October Mountain Financial Advisors) and consistent presence — four years in a row — on the FT (Financial Times) 300 list of the top financial advisors in the country.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there you can get named to because you paid 50 bucks — this list isn’t one of them,” he said, adding that there is a very rigorous set of criteria that must be met to be so honored and there are only a few firms in this region on that list.

But the best measure of success is clients’ ability to successfully navigate their climb to financial security, he said, adding that the firm helps them accomplish this by first getting to know them and their specific circumstances, and then leading from behind, if you will, by providing guidance and working in what amounts to a true partnership with the client.

As Matty noted, this is a long way from the days of taking a check and investing the amount written on it.

Peak Performance

As he talked about financial planning and how his company goes about serving clients, Matty noted there are, or were, several rules of thumb, if you will, in this business, regarding everything from life expectancy to retirement age, to the percentage of money in one’s portfolio that should be invested in stocks.

He believes most of them are obsolete and that, in general, as people live longer and are able to do more in retirement than they were a generation or two ago, there are no more rules.

“A lot of those rules of thumb came about decades ago, back when there were traditional pensions and people retired at 65,” he told BusinessWest. “And if you did retire at 65, you didn’t have 15 years worth of traveling ability in front of you because you didn’t have artificial knees and hips and stents; all that has changed.

“You have 70-year-olds getting new knees and going skiing,” he went on. “That was unheard of 30 or 40 years ago; people didn’t ski at 70, let alone take up skiing at 70.”

When the company runs financial plans for couples now, said Matty, it does do knowing that the odds are good that one of the spouses will live until age 95.

“So if you want to retire at 65, you need to be planning on 25 to 30 years of your money working for you,” he continued. “That’s a long time. I get it — you want to travel for the next 10 to 15 years, when you’re between the ages of 65 and 80. How do we structure a plan that’s going to support all that?”

Overall, Matty said, as his firm works with clients in this environment, there are certainly talks that are financial in nature. But an equal number of them — if not a greater number of them — are “psychological” in nature.

And they involve everything from often-complicated end-of-life matters to simply convincing people who have, indeed, done very well when it comes to saving for retirement that, when they get there, it’s OK to spend the money they’ve accumulated.

And there are many people who need convincing, he told BusinessWest.

“People get to that stage [retirement] by foregoing and saving for the future, foregoing and saving for the future,” he explained. “At a certain point, you have to flip that switch a little bit and say, ‘it’s OK; this is why I did all that — I don’t have to keep doing this for the rest of my life.’ Sometimes, your job really is to tell people, ‘it’s OK to spend it.’”

As for end-of-life issues, Matty said these emotional times are often made even more difficult by uncertainty about whether survivors will be adequately taken care of, and the pressing need to make sure they are.

“Often, you’re having a conversation with them, and one of them is lying in a bed they’re never going to come out of,” he said. “And often, it’s the one in worse health, the one who’s passing away, who wants to make sure that the other one is OK financially, and they really need that assurance.

“It’s a fairly easy financial conversation to have at times, because the money is there,” he went on. “But it’s really, really, really about trying to make that heartfelt assurance to someone to things are going to be OK, especially if the one who’s passing is the one who made all the financial decisions.”

Matty said he’s had a number of these discussions, and he remembers one instance where he was called to a home for a talk with a woman who was about to enter hospice and wanted assurances that her husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, would be OK.

“She knew nothing about the financial situation, she knew nothing about how their will was structured, etc., etc.,” he told BusinessWest. “I called back to the office and asked the receptionist what I had on the schedule, and then I told her to call and cancel.”

He spent the next several hours going through the will, looking over insurance policies, and making sure all questions were answered and every matter was resolved.

There have been a number of cases like that, he said, adding that all the financial advisors at the company have what amounts to a license to clear their schedules in such instances because they’re paid a salary, not commissions.

Getting to the Top

These anecdotes show clearly just how much St. Germain has changed over the years.

Instead of taking a check and investing the money, the company is leading from behind and guiding clients on a certainly challenging trek, one in which a plan has to be made, risks have to be assessed, and unforeseen circumstances — life’s equivalent of 50- or even 100-mile-per-hour winds — are anticipated and accounted for.

Returning to the hike up Mount Washington, Matty said his goal for the day “was not to make good time, but to have a good time.”

That’s the goal for retirement as well, and this company has moved to the top within this industry when it comes to helping people do just that.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Wealth Management

Stay the Course

Jean Deliso, CFP said she started calling her investment clients several days ago to gauge how they’re feeling amid some growing turbulence for the economy — and on Wall Street.

As she talked with BusinessWest about this initiative, she paraphrased the message she would leave if she encountered voicemail. “We just want to check in to see how you’re doing. The market has done very well, but we’ve seen some volatility in the market, and want to know how comfortable you are. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with ‘5’ representing the highest level of anxiety), how are you feeling about volatility, because there’s a political environment going on, we have China going on. Are you comfortable that your assets are positioned well?”

Again, that was the gist of the call. Deliso, owner of Agawam-based Deliso Financial and Insurance Services, said the firm has contacted about half the investment clients, and so far, there have a lot of 1’s and 2’s and generally nothing higher than a 3. And she’s not exactly surprised.

She believes those numbers tell her she’s doing a good job of helping her clients not just invest, but create and execute a plan. It also means she’s done well explaining to people that volatility — and yes, the markets have seen some this year amid trade turmoil, interest-rate movement, the dreaded inverted yield curve, and recession talk — is part of investing and nothing to really be feared.

“It’s important to keep their timeline in mind and not panic,” said Deliso, adding quickly that matters change the closer one is to retirement. “If you have 20 years … take a long-term perspective, don’t panic, don’t sell, and learn to live with volatility, because you can benefit from it because there are opportunities.”

That last comment is a perfect segue to the three words investment managers and financial planners always summon at times like these, especially for people with a long time window — ‘stay the course’ — as well as the seven words they also put to frequent use — ‘you shouldn’t try to time the market.’

“My job is to make sure, when these clients go into retirement, or are in retirement, that they have peace of mind. I want to make sure they’re not going to be emotional when the market drops. I want them to be secure that they know that, if it drops, they’re OK.”

Karen Dolan Curran, MBA, CFP, a principal with the Northampton-based firm Curran & Keegan Financial, used both phrases, and turned the clock back to 2008, the start of the Great Recession, to get her points across.

“In 2008, most portfolios lost an average of 30% to 40% of their value,” she recalled. “But if you stayed in those portfolios, they fully recovered after close to 18 months; you had to play the cycle out. And if you tried to go or if you tried to time the market as to when to go and when to jump back in, most people failed — because the most challenging part is trying to figure out when to jump back in. Those who stayed did fine.”

Neither Curran nor anyone else we spoke with is predicting anything close to 2008 again. In fact, some are hedging their bets on whether there will be a recession, not only this year but next year.

“In 2008, most portfolios lost an average of 30% to 40% of their value. But if you stayed in those portfolios, they fully recovered after close to 18 months; you had to play the cycle out. And if you tried to go or if you tried to time the market as to when to go and when to jump back in, most people failed.”

“We don’t believe that recession is coming necessarily in the next 12 months,” said Curran, noting that, while there a number of matters contributing to tension nationally and globally, overall, the economy is quite solid and unemployment and interest rates remain quite low, and investors should keep this in mind moving forward.

Still, the dreaded ‘R’ word is being heard and read more frequently these days, and that’s one of the reasons why Deliso launched her survey, noting that it’s a good conversation to have and she has it at least annually with clients.

The results of her polling, as noted, show there is not a high level of fear, a reaction that seems to mirror what’s happening on Wall Street, where, despite some turbulence and uncertainty, the S&P is up nearly 20% (or was at press time; things can change quickly), and when most of those ‘fear/greed’ gauges are tilting more toward the latter.

Beyond that, the comments seem to indicate that she’s doing well with what she considers her primary assignment. And that is to take fear out of the equation for her clients, even at times, like this one, in some respects, when one might be tempted to show some fear.

“That’s how this practice works; we provide a tremendous amount of education,” she explained. “And we make sure clients are positioned well with fixed assets and investment assets, because when we set people up for success, there’s a balance between the two.

“My job is to make sure, when these clients go into retirement, or are in retirement, that they have peace of mind,” she went on. “I want to make sure they’re not going to be emotional when the market drops. I want them to be secure that they know that, if it drops, they’re OK.”

Curran said her firm works in much the same way, with an emphasis on financial planning, not simply investing. As a result, she said she rarely gets a ‘panic’ call from an investor when the market takes a tumble, as it’s done a few times this year, or even when it takes a hard fall, as it did in the fourth quarter of last year.

She told BusinessWest that her firm helps clients plan against the backdrop of what she called the ‘worst-case scenario,’ meaning what happened in 2008.

“We do a lot of stress-case analysis,” she explained. “Saying, ‘well, what is the basic assumed market return? What if the market fluctuates downward during a particular time? What if it is nothing but positive for a particular time?’ And in certain cases, we replay 2008 right at a point of retirement, because that is the worst-case scenario — the moment you retire and you draw on your investment, the market comes down.

“We do all those simulations with clients so, when there are swings, like that 800-point drop recently, we get few, if any, calls, because we’ve already considered the worst-case scenario,” she went on, adding that, when people retire, they have more free time and spend some of it watching — and worrying about — the markets and their investments. “We don’t want them to have those reaction swings.”

Thus, the firm, like Deliso’s, recommends that those entering retirement do so with six months or perhaps a year’s worth of cash reserves to draw on, rather than their retirement savings.

Curran said effective planning, not to mention a willingness to stay the course, or “play the cycle out,” as she called it, is critical in this environment where interest rates on CDs and other very conservative forms of investing are far too low to generate real returns.

“The new norm is that people can’t go to a conservative portfolio of bonds and cash in retirement and live comfortably,” she said. “They have to be in the market, and they have to feel the weight of the ebb and flow of the market and understand that, if they stay long enough, the market will give them a positive return.”

Deliso agreed and reiterated that a big part of her job is to remove fear from the equation through proper planning and an effective mix of investments and fixed assets.

That’s why she hasn’t had anything over a 3 yet from her phone poll, and why she isn’t expecting any, either.

— George O’Brien

Sections Wealth Management
Critical for Effective Wealth Building

WealthBuildingSome watched the financial collapse in 2008 severely hamper their parents’ retirement plans. Others are simply working at jobs without pension benefits and doing the math.
For whatever reason, young people are starting to take a more serious look at their long-term financial future — a trend Patricia Grenier finds gratifying.
“For the first time in many years, I’m actually seeing young professionals — dual-income couples in their early 30s — coming in to talk about financial planning,” said Grenier, general partner with BRP/Grenier Financial Services in Springfield.
“That’s very surprising because, in the past, I always used to say, ‘I wish I could get them when they’re young, when time is on their side and they can ride the many ups and downs in the market.’ But now, they’re coming in at a much younger age, which gives us a lot more flexibility, a lot more time. It allows us to fix things and make adjustments as we go along.”
George Keady, senior member of the Keady Ford Montemagni Wealth Management Group at UBS Wealth Management in Springfield, makes a similar observation.
“The clear trend in the past five to seven years has been people starting younger,” he told BusinessWest, noting that some of that may be based on encouragement from their employers, many of which enroll them in self-funded retirement accounts almost immediately, and the employer must take the initiative to unenroll.
“Young people today assume they’ll have to take full responsibility for their retirement,” Keady said. “The era of defined benefits and pension payments is being reduced dramatically, so people are taking responsibility through 401(k) plans and savings.”
Doug Wheat agrees. “Certainly, many employers now automatically enroll new employees in 401(k) plans, and that has made a huge difference in what the participation rates are,” said the senior manager of Family Wealth Management in Holyoke. “While there may be more awareness, I think the automatic enrollment has made the most impact.”
While the world of the Internet age is definitely more educated on financial matters than it used to be, Grenier said many young professionals took lessons from the 2008 crash and what it did to the retirement savings of people they know, including their parents. Whatever the reason, they’re increasingly starting early to seek strategies to build and protect wealth.
“They’re more aware,” she said. “We have more knowledge 24/7; we know what’s going on. You can turn on the TV anytime and see exactly what’s happening in the world and in the economy. But there are strategies you need to apply that can’t be learned by turning on the TV. You have to sit down and plan.”

Planning Ahead

Pat Grenier

Pat Grenier says one of the biggest financial mistakes people make is underestimating how much money they will truly need down the road.

Some strategies are time-tested common sense, Grenier noted: save at least 10% toward retirement, prioritize spending and stay within one’s means, and do not build credit-card debt.
As for specific plans beyond the basics, when Grenier talks to younger investors, “they’re asking, ‘am I doing the right thing?’ even though retirement is 30 years down the road for them,” she told BusinessWest. “The lesson to be learned from this big downturn is you need to plan, you need to have a plan B, and if you think you have enough money, you don’t. You always need more money.”
To that end, she added, “I am seeing the younger ages more willing to plan and be flexible. And, unlike older clients, both spouses are usually involved in the decision-making process.”
Wheat said young professionals need to use the time they have to save for retirement, even though it seems so far down the road, “because they can take advantage of compounding interest by starting early. When you do that and build wealth slowly over time, the ultimate goal can be less daunting.
“If young people can target 10% to 15% of their take-home pay to put automatically in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan at work, it makes it relatively painless to contribute to retirement goals down the line,” he continued. “If they do that, it’s much easier to reach a retirement-savings goal which maintains their standard of living in retirement.”
That’s because, “in general, people underestimate how much they may need, and even when they’re contributing to a retirement plan, they often don’t contribute enough.”
If nothing else, Keady said, workers should maximize their company match if there is one, because every dollar makes a difference compounded over time. “If somebody starts putting $15 a week away in their 20s, in 40 years at 6%, they’d have $130,000.”
But that’s just the beginning, he said. “If they get started early, they can sit down and construct a real plan, not a one-size-fits-all solution. We have clients show up in their late 50s, and they’ve accumulated some money, but they really don’t totally comprehend what they need in the years ahead. People in their 40s who have accumulated some money have more options in the planning process.”
One reason young people might be starting on a savings and investment plan early is the cost of college tuition, which has far outpaced the general inflation rate over the past quarter-century.
“The young couples I’ve had this year are really concerned about the cost of education, what it will cost them to educate their children. Personally, I think college tuition is the next big bubble; it’s unsustainable,” Grenier said, noting that the average private college costs about $55,000 per year for tuition, room, and fees. “Even if their kids aren’t going to school for another 10 or 15 years, at today’s cost of college, there’s no way they’re going to be able to save enough money. Coming up with a strategy for them to alleviate the college load is really important.”
Wheat, who wrote about planning to pay for college in the May 6 issue of BusinessWest, agreed that it’s a daunting prospect. “Most people don’t have nearly enough to pay for college. The question becomes, how much debt are they willing to bear? Sometimes they take on more than they should — both college students and parents — and don’t think carefully about taking on more debt.”

Age-old Questions
For older individuals and couples, of course, expenses change as the retirement years loom.
“For people in their 50s and 60s,” Keady said, “those are the years where maybe tuition responsibilities are behind them, they’ve paid for their home, and now they’re thinking about themselves, thinking about retirement income, but also thinking about long-term care issues. That comes with longer life expectancy.”
What those people need to do, Wheat said, is to think about how much they need to maintain their standard of living, and then decide whether their goals are reasonable based on their expected income. If not, “are you going to cut back on your standard of living now or wait until retirement to do that, or do a little bit now and a little later?
“Most people, when they’re thinking about wealth building, really need to start with the basics of what they’re spending their money on and what their total expenses are,” he continued. “Are they spending money on things they really value, or are there places in their budget where they can cut back? For some people, creating artificial spending barriers is helpful for doing that. One of the classic ways to create an artificial spending barrier is to have part of your paycheck go directly into a savings account, where maybe it’s not as easily accessible and not as easily spent.”
Keady also suggested workers increase their withholding with every increase in their salary as another means to painlessly boost their savings. Still, Wheat said, most often the main issue is spending, not saving.
“It’s surprising how few people really know how much money they spend every year,” he told BusinessWest. “People know what their take-home pay is every week or every month, but they don’t necessarily think about it in terms of how much they’re spending for a whole year. The end result, for a lot of people, is spending small amounts of money on lots of things that are not that valuable to them, and it ends up being a lot of money — $20 on this, $25 on that, and $30 on this, and pretty soon it’s thousands of dollars every year.”
It’s an issue that knows no age limitations. “For younger people, the strategies are different because they’re in the saving mode and the spending mode; they might have young children,” Grenier said. “We know their expenses are going to be high, so we come up with a spending plan that suits their needs.”
Similarly, “if I have an older couple who are going to be retiring within the next few years, we’re going to try to find out what their expense needs are going to be and the sources of revenue coming in,” she explained. “If we can cover their fixed expenses, that’s strategy number one; then the rest of the money is gravy, the icing on the cake that allows them to keep up with inflation, allows them to do all those extra things, allows them to have peace of mind if the market drops, so they don’t have to panic.”
Still, the crash of 2008 has changed many experts’ minds about how to build an emergency fund. “Before the crash, we said, ‘make sure you have six months of living expenses.’ Now it’s one year, maybe two years of living expenses in investments they can easily get their hands on.”

Working for a Living
While younger professionals are still mapping out a career path, Wheat said, many older workers are realizing they’re going to have to work longer than they expected, and not just because of the impact 2008 had on many people’s savings.
“Over the past three or four years, Social Security has placed an incentive for people to delay accessing their Social Security benefits, keeping people in the workforce longer,” he said, noting that the traditional average retirement age of around 62-65 has slowly risen to around 65-67. “The fact is, people are living longer — 20 to 30 years after retirement.”
And, in many cases, Grenier said, “they’re outliving their money. It’s tough.”
Even the best-laid plans, for both younger and older investors, aren’t foolproof, which is why it’s important to continually reassess one’s goals and strategies, she added. “Planning is a dynamic process, and you have to make adjustments as life goes on, because life events happen. If you start early, you’ll have more options as to how to get there.”
Wheat said people often become overwhelmed by the prospect of changing course in their wealth-building plans, when actually making a change may not be so difficult. “Taking a half-hour or hour to make small changes can make a big difference.”
Fortunately, said Keady, whose group specializes in higher-net-worth individuals, today’s investors tend to be very engaged. “Clients are much more sophisticated and demanding. They want a comprehensive plan as they accumulate wealth. They expect more out of us than just investment advice. So we’ve got to adapt to changing client demands.”
Those demands, Grenier noted, are much easier to meet when clients start young, so they’re able to ride the inevitable ups and downs of the markets and take a long-term view.
“They can take more risks and look at alternative investments,” she said. “It’s exciting to me to see the younger people becoming more engaged.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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