Seven Deadly Sins of investing

The single most important risk to a portfolio of investments is a poorly defined or constantly changing strategy. You must have a long-term approach to which you adhere over time regardless of the current favor of the particular strategy. You will need to resist the psychological pressures of investing:

Consider these “seven deadly sins of investing”:

  • //gluttony//– hoarding cash when you should invest or evaluating by only one category when you should look at the big picture;
  • //greed//– looking for big winnings when time and patience pay off;
  • //pride//– not selling your losers or old, familiar holdings when a new idea is better;
  • //lust//– listening to the information barrage and adjusting your portfolio constantly rather than filtering it out to stick with a plan;
  • //envy//– chasing fads or looking at a friend who has “winners”, making investing look more like gambling, when actually you should sell your best and buy trailing but good positions (as in the “dogs of the Dow” technique);
  • //anger//– not forgiving yourself for mistakes and moving on; and
  • //sloth//– changing beliefs to fit your decisions or portfolio rather than applying the lesson that you should review a portfolio intellectually and objectively and decide if you would still buy the holdings today.

You should review your asset allocation at least annually. A stock market rise will leave you over-weighted in stocks, meaning that you should sell out of stocks and buy into bonds and cash to maintain the allocation. If the stock market goes down, you should do the reverse. In fact, you should sell from your better mutual fund managers and buy the managers that have not done as well recently because those excelling and those lagging are both likely to return to the mean over time. Reallocating may seem wrong, especially when bond yields are low and CD rates are low. Nonetheless, history tells us to override the psychological urges, take “profits” from those currently doing well, and re-deploy them with assets that are more likely to provide future returns.

Adhering to a sensible investment strategy is how money is made over time. You may feel that you missed out compared to someone who is all in the right stocks now. However, you will also be glad to miss out when that person’s holdings go down faster than the market and you have non-stock investments that increase in value. Also, when there is a new influx of capital, you need to have a strategy so you can sensibly filter the barrage of information from people wanting to help you handle you finances.

The real problem facing retirement plans? Not saving enough

Recently, two debates have been brewing over 401(k) plans. Specifically, are they too expensive and should we cap the amount Americans can accumulate in the total balance of their defined benefit and defined contribution plans as well as IRAs. Is that really where the debate should be?
A recent PBS.org retirement study revealed some alarming statistics about Americans’ retirement savings habits. Specifically 30% of workers have $0.00 in retirement savings and 40% are currently not saving anything for retirement. Even factoring in Social Security, the average savings shortfall of a U.S. household will be $250,000 at retirement.
For many, if they are contributing to their retirement plans, they are contributing too little. The current belief that contributing just enough to maximize an employer’s contribution will fund your retirement is irresponsible. Only a small number of Americans will amass $1million in their retirement plans by the time they retire. According to Don Phillips in his recent Morningstar article, Fighting the Wrong War, “At a 4% withdrawal rate, $1 million in savings will provide just $40,000 a year.”
While the cost of the plans and amount we can accumulate in our retirement plans can be interesting debates, they don’t address the real issue. Will we, as future retirees, be able to fund our own retirement?

Be wary of these scams – IRS and investments

It seems that we hear of a new internet or phone scam on a weekly basis. These scam artists are getting bolder and more sophisticated with each new endeavor. So, we wanted to alert you to a few new ones where the scammers are pretending to be IRS agents and financial planners.

**Taxpayer Scams**
This past year, the IRS issued a strong warning to consumers against an aggressive telephone scam. The scammers call taxpayers to inform them they owe outstanding taxes and demand payment over the phone. To lend to their credibility, the scammers will have the last four digits of the taxpayer’s social security number. If the taxpayer refuses to make a payment, the caller threatens the taxpayer with jail time, loss of driver’s license and, in some cases, deportation. When the taxpayer refuses to provide this information, the scammers call back pretending to be a local police officer.
If you receive one of these calls, the IRS requests that you take these steps:
• “If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
• If you know you do not owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.”
The IRS wants you to know that they never initiate contact with taxpayers via email to request personal or financial information. They also never ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit cards, banks for other accounts. If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, you should forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

**Investor Scams**
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) recently published a warning to registered representatives about three different scams where registered representatives may be subject to “Firm Identity Theft”.
The first scheme involves scammers fraudulently using the identity of legitimate registered representatives and brokerage firms to con investors out of their money by building websites that mirror legitimate websites of broker-dealers and registered representatives. The scammers claim they are registered with FINRA and SIPC. Victims who fall for this tactic are tricked into making payments or investments through the site. The scam artists collect the money and then disappear.
The second one puts a new twist on an old tactic by perusing international investors with and “advance fee scheme” or “mirror fraud.” Again, scammers use the identity of a legitimate broker-dealer and contact investors with an attractive offer. Examples of these offers include lifting a stock restriction or purchasing investors’ shares for an amount significantly above their market value. In return, the investor is asked to pay certain fees and expenses in advance. Once the investor has paid the fees, the fake broker-dealer steals the money and disappears.
The last scheme involves fraudulent checks. The scammer, using the stolen identity of a registered broker-dealer, contacts a customer is an attractive offer, like offering to overpay for an item on Craigslist. When the scammer sends the check, it’s for a much larger amount than the agreed-upon price. The scammer then requests the seller to mail the difference back to the scammer. In an effort to convince the customer of the stolen identity, the fraudster will use the broker-dealer’s true address as the return address on the mail sent to the customer. Believing they are dealing with a real broker-dealer, the customer is persuaded to send money. But, when the seller cashes the original check, it bounces.

Protecting yourself from these scams requires vigilance. If someone contacts you with and offer that’s too good to be true, it likely is!

Update on Roth conversions – to do or not to do?

In deciding whether to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth, there are many factors to weigh. At present, uncertainty about potential income tax reform makes the decision even more difficult: you are making a decision on what provides greater tax advantages, conversion or not, without confidence in the future tax impact.
Nonetheless, converting makes good tax sense if you expect your future marginal tax rate in retirement to be the same or greater than the rate on the conversion. However, if you expect your tax rate in retirement to be lower, then you will pay more taxes on conversion than you will in retirement.
There are other reasons to consider converting now:
> First, converting an IRA or other plan to a Roth account means that the assets are no longer subject to the Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”) requirement reached at age 70½, thus allowing you to retain assets as long you wish. At death, your heirs must start withdrawing from the account, but the withdrawals will be income tax-free.
> Second, if you believe your IRA assets will grow significantly over time then it is advantageous to convert. If you convert now, you will have a lower conversion rate (less of the total will have been subject to income taxes). This calculation applies whether your current IRA assets are depressed or have yet to appreciate.
There is a reason not to convert now:
> If you’re single and the conversion puts your AGI over $200,000 (or you’re married and the conversion puts your AGI above $250,000), then the 3.8% Medicare surtax on unearned income may be triggered. However, you can avoid this (and other unintended consequences) by doing partial conversions over multiple years.
What if you err? If you convert and then your account value falls, you have until October 15th of the following year to undo the conversion, thus revering the income taxes paid.
Planning: If you’re considering a conversion, give us a call and we can help you make the right decision for you!

Update on the impact of the 3.8% Medicare surtax

Experimented with some returns on our tax software, here is an example of the impact of the surcharge, from forms 8959 and 8960, on the taxes due.

For a client with high W-2 income, as well as interest and dividend income, shifting $100,000 of income from dividends to W-2 income decreased the surcharge by $3,630 (the taxes remained unchanged).

In contrast, shifting $100,000 of salary to dividends increases the surcharge by $3,601 as does shifting $100,000 of salary to capital gains.

The message so far is: when there is substantial earned income, minimizing investment income is worth over 3% for the amount you move. That means that, all other factors being equal, an investment that had no interest, dividend or capital gains distributions will have a better after-tax return than one that does.